Author Archives: Gary Lorentzen

About Gary Lorentzen

Vietnam Vet, B.A. The Evergreen State College, Olympia WA. 1975. Teacher Certification/History, Univ of Wash, Seattle, 1978. German major, Portland State Univ. 1986 (Deutsche Sommerschule am Pazifik), M.A., Germanics, Univ of Wash. 1989. German Instructor, Portland State Univ + Chemeketa College (Salem), 1991-92. Retired high school German teacher, 2013, Vancouver, WA. Married to Dan Koperski; we live in Portland OR.

Liberals, Conservatives and Confederates

Today is Friday, August 15, 2014

I’m sitting here this morning drinking my usual cup of coffee and perusing the headlines from across the nation and the world, thinking nothing has really changed much. I turn sixty-four this week and looking back in my life time, the world situation feels ‘same old-same old’. Same old conflicts, same old reasons, same old ignorance–and it isn’t just about the Middle East. This political nightmare in Ferguson MO resulting from the overreach of law enforcement, is nothing new, and even worse, the ideological nonsense that is now being spewed from conservative talk radio, radical right wing media and social media, and Fox News that ultimately blames the victim and sides with local, out of control police force, is also not new.

As someone who majored in U.S. History at the university, thinking about 18th, 19th, and 20th century America, I realized, following that historical thread to the present, it is in some ways the same old tired history of conflict between political ideologies that are centered in sections or regions of the country. Historians call it ‘sectionalism’ when referring to 19th century America and it’s often identified as one of the root causes of the Civil War. It’s also about the very existence of free Blacks in American society that has historically been divided from the very beginning of the country by two fundamental mentalities: liberal and confederate–not liberal and conservative.

I realized back in 1979 living in Atlanta GA, that there was a white ‘confederate’ mentality that still existed in the body-politic of America. My very first teaching assignment as a history teacher was in suburban Atlanta and my text for U.S. History was called ‘The Nation’ and a supplemental history reader was called ‘The Natural Superiority of Southern Politicians.’ In these materials, there was no mention of the Civil War, but rather only ‘the War of Northern Aggression.’  Around Atlanta, you saw bumper stickers with the Confederate flag and the caption, ‘Forget, hell!’ There were KKK rallies conducted east of the city at Stone Mountain. There was a mayoral candidate, I.B. Stone, who ran on an openly racist ticket. (Thankfully, he didn’t win!)  With all of this, I realized, there was a ‘confederate’ mentality that still existed.

The North may have militarily won the Civil War, and we may have added the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution to ensure that African Americans were full participants in American society, but the terrorism of the KKK and the general ‘confederate mentality’, ultimately led to the southern states rejecting those three amendments and finding legal means to reverse them. This ultimately led to Jim Crow and the Plessy vs Ferguson case of 1896 that created two completely separate racial societies and loss of civil rights for Blacks.

By the 1960s, this segregation became intolerable and the struggle for civil rights eventually turned the confederate culture upside down. These ‘confederates’ began losing their grip on America and, until recently, I thought we had succeeded in eliminating this primitive mentality, in spite of my experience in Georgia in the late 1970s. But the Tea Party, which originally was all about using taxes to bail out the big banks in the 2008 economic collapse, transformed into a political movement that seeks to re-assert the old ‘confederate’ mentality and agenda. This is not ‘conservative’ and don’t be fooled when they call themselves ‘conservatives’, because they are not. They have a very narrow political agenda that seeks to return women to a subordinate role to men by giving government the right to control women’s reproduction; by strengthening so-called ‘2nd Amendment’ rights to own and carry any weapon they want; by fighting against extending civil rights to gay people, and rejecting any change or action by the current ‘Black’ administration. The current situation in America is unacceptable to these ‘confederates’ precisely because it strengthens the impulses of the mid-1960s liberal political agenda to eliminate the confederate ‘culture’ that had succeeded in the latter 19th century through the 1960s.

The modus operandi of these confederates is to resist, stonewall, and obstruct whenever possible. They want to use the authority of law to impose their agenda just as ‘they’ did in the late 19th century in gaining control of the southern state governments and through the terrorism of the KKK after Reconstruction. They are democratic only when they are in control, and when they are not, they manipulate the authority of law to impose their agenda; they resist, obstruct and wield their ‘guns’ and Confederate flags in symbolic displays of ‘we the people’ and ‘don’t tread on me’ sloganism. This behavior is not ‘conservative’–it’s confederate. The sooner real Americans realize that this confederate mentality lies beneath the current political struggles in this country, and that it is just as traitorous now as it was in 1861, the sooner we can neutralize the Tea Party and eliminate the political gridlock inside the Beltway; the sooner we can deal with law enforcement that has become militarized for no good reason other than to perpetuate the inherently racist and undemocratic confederate mentality (as we now have seen in Ferguson MO), and the sooner we can apply the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the political process without interference from more primitive motivations to keep this country in a racially divided state.

I fear that in the near future, there will be an alliance created between the various neo-Confederate, radical right wing, neo-Nazi, white supremacist and the religious right organizations, or at least an effort to unify them, into a political movement that will seek to re-gain control of the social, political and cultural narrative in the country at the expense of racial and ethnic minorities, women and LGBT.  We’re beginning to see a ground swell of this kind of nonsense in reaction to Obama’s election. We must stay vigilant lest these elements in the body-politic find their way into local, state and federal governments. If they do, we will face a political and constitutional crisis as serious as the formation of the Confederate States of America was.

Why I Have Become Anti-Religion

Today is Sunday, July 20, 2014.

It’s Sunday and I woke up this morning thinking about the conflict in Gaza and the problems for non-Muslims in Iraq. Then I reflected on the Hobby Lobby decision in this country, and it suddenly dawned on me that religious fanaticism has really taken hold of people’s minds around the world. It seems to me this is a world-wide phenomenon, from African and Russian Christians criminalizing gay people to radical Muslims demanding Christians in Iraq convert or be killed. Our own Supreme Court has sided with fundamentalist Christians who own companies allowing them to discriminate against their employees who don’t follow the bosses’ religious beliefs. There are still recalcitrant efforts on the part of social conservatives to roll back gay marriage and women’s reproductive rights. All of this somehow in the name of God.

I used to not care what religion anyone was, or, indeed, whether they were any kind of believer at all. But it now seems to me that mainstream, normal religious sentiment is dying and being replaced by a virulent form of religiosity that seeks to deny any rights to anyone who doesn’t believe. Now these believers have made it their mission to infiltrate the political process in order to ‘protect’ their chosen life-style as a believer, and literally to hell with everyone else. But they need no protection, in my opinion. They are all still allowed to believe whatever they want. They can all attend any church they want. They can believe in whatever mythology or dogma they want. That right can’t be taken away from them. But it’s really disturbing to me that they don’t want to allow non-believers any rights at all. They seek to enforce their religious beliefs on everyone–they want a Christian nation in the same way the radical Muslims want an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East.

Thankfully, we live in a society that is ruled by Law and thus far, in spite of the Hobby Lobby insanity, we are moving forward into the 21st Century with a general attitude that says everyone has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These radical fundamentalists, however, believe that because we allow women the right to plan their own families and control their own bodies, or gay people to participate fully in the society, that somehow this is an attack on them and their beliefs. In order to protect themselves they feel the need to disallow basic human and civil rights to others in the name of their God. And they are adamant to ‘take back’ America by trying legislation to allow them to discriminate against others if those ‘others’ somehow violate their beliefs. Perhaps they should just put up a sign on their businesses that says ‘Christian-owned, we reserve the right to discriminate against anyone who is different from us, and if you work for us you will have to follow our beliefs.’ It seems the US Supreme Court agrees this is OK (Hobby Lobby decision), and the rest of us would know not to do business there.

Such people are, in my opinion, anti-social and need to be re-educated and rehabilitated in order to live well in this pluralistic society. In no way should their right to religious freedom be abrogated, but if their religious ‘practice’ includes denying the rights of others to live their lives freely and openly, then it is incumbent upon all of us rational, thinking people to fight back against the ignorance and the undemocratic behavior.  Religious fanatics have renounced the basic tenant of our Declaration of Independence–that we have a God given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and on our own individual terms. No church can transgress that secular principle without violating the most fundamental idea behind the foundation of the United States.

So as it stands now, I have become rather anti-religion, if religion is going to set itself up above the Law and demand that this country become a theocracy and in the process deny us the right also to be secular or even atheist. I have lost my patience and any respect for such religious people. Does that mean I won’t celebrate Christmas? No…ridiculous. I like Christmas! I don’t care that it’s a Christian holiday. But I will also be looking at the politics of all of this with a very critical eye and I will not hesitate to support any politician who wants to isolate this fundamentalism and neutralize their political influence.

 

Link

Today is Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It is well-known that countries like Uganda, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe have recently passed anti-gay legislation, criminalizing homosexuality, while the Americas and Europe are moving to integrate gay people into the fabric of society. The situation in Uganda is especially bad because of the law that was signed on February 14, 2014 that has mandatory prison sentences for being gay. This has led to a serious wave of violence against gay people in Uganda as well as their complete isolation, segregation or removal from all social life in the country–no jobs, no legal place to live, thrown out of families, etc. The law resulted in a wave of refugees from Uganda across borders, mostly into Kenya. But that hasn’t solved their problems. Here is a blog-link that graphically presents the situation. It is heart-wrenching…

http://oblogdeeoblogda.me/2014/06/16/ugandan-gays-in-kenya-desperate-sick-and-fear-death/

 

Who’s Responsible for the Debacle in Iraq?

Today is Saturday, June 14, 2014.

Watching the events unfold in Iraq over the last week, I began to ask myself who exactly is responsible for this situation? How did it come to this that a radical splinter group of Al Qaeda should succeed in laying siege to Mosul and Tikrit with plans to march on Baghdad? The easy answer, which I think is the wrong answer, is that the Obama and Bush administrations share the fault. If Bush hadn’t gone into Iraq in the first place…if Obama had agreed to arm the moderates in Syria against Assad…if Obama hadn’t ended US boots on the ground in 2011, this couldn’t have happened.  These are over-simplified answers to my question and I think, in the end, wrong answers.

In reading and examining the crisis, it is clear to me that both Turkey and Maliki, President of Iraq, are at fault. This debacle could have been avoided if the Turkish government had been paying attention and had responded to clearly articulated threats from ISIS well before their 4000-man ‘army’ invaded northern Iraq. Turkish policy in the region is a dismal failure and the result is more than a dozen of their embassy personnel are now being held hostage. ISIS let Turkey know they were coming into Mosul and that the embassy would be attacked if the embassy personnel were not evacuated. Turkey did not respond and, apparently, even as late as June 6, when ISIS was already in Mosul, the government said there was no credible threat. Something is rotten in Ankara. Turkish defenses could have been there to meet ISIS as it came across the border, if they had taken the threats seriously and responded appropriately.

In addition to Turkey, President Maliki, himself, has not put any effort at all into integrating Sunnis, Shias and Kurds into the new national Iraqi system. He has not created a welcoming, diverse government or Iraqi social and political culture. This has alienated everyone in the country and continues the age old denominational and sectional rivalries in the region. The result is many Iraqis in the northern part of the country welcomed ISIS coming in and taking over. The coming civil war, and I think that’s where this is leading, could result in a radical Islamic caliphate that is extreme in its religiosity and desire for a theocracy. Their underlying objectives include eliminating Western influences from the social and political culture and returning the system to a traditional, medieval theocratic society. Ultimately, the current situation is a direct result of 19th century and early 20th century European imperialism in the region which set up the borders as we now know them in the Middle East in 1916, completely ignoring the realities in the sand regarding tribal relationships, religious affiliations and ethnic sensibilities.

There is also the problem of the Iraqi military. Some units were given orders to withdraw from any conflict with ISIS, which on the surface looks like a conspiracy within the Iraqi military leadership to allow ISIS into the country.

We can argue all we want as to whether Bush’s initial invasion of Iraq was right or wrong. The reality now is there was a democratic process put in place for national elections, Maliki won, and he has not done well as President. You can say Obama’s policies in the Middle East have failed, and you might be right when it comes to Syria, but in all other respects this isn’t about current US policy in the region. Obama is considering strikes against ISIS, but has made it clear that troops on the ground will not happen. Hawks in congress are complaining that military action should still be on the table for consideration. I don’t think the American people have any stomach for putting more resources into Iraq. To what end? No country in the West can hope to resolve the problems that are endemic in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. This is now an Iraqi problem…a problem for the democratically elected President Maliki to sort out. The US has done enough and there’s no hope for any kind of real stability unless Maliki makes the right overtures to the minorities in the country and genuinely welcomes them into the system and encourages diversity in representation and participation in the government.

The best thing Obama can do is put pressure on Maliki to create a full representative government that includes all minority groups. If the people of Iraq feel enfranchised, they’ll resist the radical theocrats like ISIS and Al Qaeda. Maliki has to act quickly or Iraq could collapse under the current crisis.

 

Link

Today is Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On Saturday, May 10th, something occurred here in the U.S. and in Europe that can only be described as a breakthrough–a moment in time when suddenly the world is now different and without question better. A transvestite, Thomas Neuwirth, aka, Conchita Wurst , of Austria won the Eurovision song competition with her incredible rendition of ‘Rise Like a Phoenix.’  There was a swift negative response from Belarus and Russia calling it decadent and inappropriate for their television audiences. Of course, they would say something that ridiculous; they’ve recently taken giant steps backwards in their societies regarding the LGBT community. Ironically, the song was the #1 download in Russia on Sunday. Here’s a video of the performance if you haven’t seen it yet:

But it wasn’t just in Europe that we saw a breakthrough. Michael Sam was drafted by the NFL to play for the St. Louis Rams–the first openly gay professional player. The media was there when the announcement came through and he jumped in joy, grabbed his boyfriend and kissed him–oh my! For the whole world to see! But the media treated it like they did any other player they covered in the draft, so I have to give it to the sports media for behaving well and reporting it in their usual banal routine manner. AND THAT’s THE REAL BREAKTHROUGH.

And it does not stop there. Arkansas began marrying same-sex couples on Saturday after the state supreme court declared their ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. Of course, there’s a movement to appeal the decision, but until that appeal has been certified, gay marriages are taking place. Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Kentucky, Virginia have all had their marriage bans declared unconstitutional recently–and now Idaho as of yesterday. In April, the Oregon courts were set to hear arguments to remove the ban on same-sex marriages, but the State said it wouldn’t defend the law, because it was in clear violation of the Constitution after last June’s Supreme Court decision regarding the Defense of Marriage Act. However, an out-of-state ‘family’ organization filed in court to represent the defense of the ban, so marriage equality in Oregon has to wait until the court decides what to do with that. This morning at 9:00am in Eugene OR, a federal judge began hearing this outside group’s petition. The judge will have to decide whether the group even has standing in the State of Oregon–that still is not clear–to be able to present arguments for keeping the ban. I don’t understand enough of the law to know whether some socially conservative religious/protect-the-family group from the Midwest has the right to go to another state and basically be a proxy for the state Attorney General. Somehow that sounds unlikely to me. There could be a decision as early as 11:00am this morning. So watch for it!

Ironically, the resistance to the constitutional support for same-gender marriage, flies in the face of social reality. The first same-sex wedding was performed in Annapolis at the US Naval Academy on Saturday as well. That’s another amazing breakthrough after the gay witch hunts in the military during the 1980s, then Don’t Ask Don’t Tell beginning in 1993, and its demise a couple years ago by a presidential executive decision.

The transformation in this country regarding civil rights began in the years after WWII, but the 1950s and early 1960s were difficult after the 1954 decision, Brown vs Board of Education that ended segregation of the races. The white resistance to integration became extreme and it took the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to start moving this country in the right direction. For LGBT, the first public effort to protest the government’s persecution, prosecution, pathologizing and demonizing of gay people began with Frank Kameny and the Mattachine Society’s first demonstration on July 4, 1965 in front of the White House. They went on to demonstrate against the State Department hiring/firing practices. Here’s a short report on Kameny and his efforts with some old footage from 1965 of the first protests.

So, what began in 1965 as a small, mostly ignored protest by a group of gays and lesbians, then picked up steam after the Stonewall riots of June 28-July 3, 1969, and gained some level of national sympathy after the Harvey Milk assassination, has now reached some kind of fruition. There’s a new energy in the country around these issues and amazing social and legal breakthroughs as we witnessed them this week. There will always be the Bible thumpers who won’t mind their own business and will continue to resist these changes. But, you know, let’s not hate them. Love the sinner, hate the sin of bigotry and prejudice. We are changing in spite of their resistance and there is no going back. The breakthroughs, at this point, seem irreversible.

UPDATE:  The Federal Judge in Eugene ruled that the National Organization for Marriage had no standing in Oregon and he wasn’t about to allow a third party to come in to testify as a proxy for the state government, when the state didn’t request it. But he still hasn’t ruled on the case that he heard in April.

Does the Crisis in the Ukraine Indicate an End to Global Norms?

Today is Sunday, April 13, 2014

I was originally thinking I would wait until the end of this month to see what develops in the Ukraine before I wrote another blog. However, the situation this weekend has begun to change rapidly from the lull of last week. I am struck by the similarity of the current situation in Eastern Ukraine to last month’s events in Crimea. Once again we see fascist-dressed, heavily armed, paramilitary terrorists taking over public buildings in the cities, ‘protesting’ the government in Kiev and demanding independence from the Ukraine, ostensibly to create an Anschluss with Russia. This is not a spontaneous, grassroots pro-Russian movement that has arisen from the people. The coordination, the weapons, the unmarked uniforms, the strategies, etc., make it clear to me this is being coordinated by the Russians. They have amassed 35,000 to 40,000 troops along the border and mobilized tank units and fighter jet squadrons. it won’t be long now and Russia will invade Eastern Ukraine just like they did Crimea. And if the government in Kiev and the Ukrainian people don’t resist, like they really didn’t resist what happened in Crimea, there won’t be much international support for their objections to Russia’s actions, or at least, the response will be relatively luke warm.

What is mysterious to me is the lack of international response to the crisis. China has made it clear they support the sovereignty of the Ukraine, but they haven’t condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Israel is the most pro-American country in the world, yet, they haven’t condemned Russia’s actions. India, the largest democracy in the world, has refused to comment on the crisis. When you look more closely at each of these countries’ relationship to Russia, you find relationships that are crucial to each. Their national interests, at this point, would not be served by condemning Russia. Yet, in each case, Russia also presents a potentially serious threat. Russia supports many of the Arab countries and groups, including Syria and Hezbollah, both more than willing to see Israel pushed into the Mediterranean Sea. India has border issues with China and it seems it would be better served by siding with the U.S. on the crisis in the Ukraine. If Russia is allowed to annex territories from a neighboring sovereign nation, it sets a precedent for China to do the same in India. China also has a long, extensive border with Russia and has had conflicts over border territories before. If Russia gets away with the Ukraine, this could be a signal that China’s border could also be vulnerable, if history is any lesson.

This concerns me. Since 1945 and the end of WWII, international norms have been in place that make it unacceptable to annex territory from another sovereign nation. These rules were put in place in response to the violations and land grabs of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Aside from the little ‘hot wars’ of the Cold War that followed, these international norms helped maintain a standard for international peace in the latter part of the 20th century. Israel’s land grab and settlements in the West Bank have been condemned by almost everybody, but China, India and Israel itself haven’t condemned Russia. I have to ask myself, what does this mean for the 21st century? This is the first serious crisis of the new century and, if global norms regarding sovereignty and secure national borders are ignored or abandoned, we are risking a peaceful world and another world war in the relatively near future.  So, from my point of view, Russia needs to be stopped in order to protect these standards and norms of international behavior that have existed for the last seventy years.

The cult of personality around Putin, his clear desire for a new fascist imperial Russia, his rather naive sense that he can hold Europe hostage with gas and oil, in fact, his push over the last decade to recreate the Russian economy based almost exclusively on oil and gas, his forced take-over of the Russian media, which included the assassination of journalists who criticized him, and now his push into the Ukraine, all lead me to believe the weak democracy that developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union has been lost and Putin has replaced the process with a permanent ‘presidency’ in order to bring Russia forcefully back to a position of oppositional power to the U.S. and the E.U. This does not bode well for the 21st Century. Once again, reactionary fascist forces will oppose and compete with the democracies of the world seriously threatening them. Ironically, this time it will be one of the victims of the last fascist efforts to dominate the world, Russia, that itself is turning fascist. WWII for the Russians is called ‘The War of Survival’ and their war with Nazi Germany killed 22,000,000 Russians. I can’t believe their collective memory is that short, but their actions in the Ukraine and the demise of their democracy under Putin suggest they are not making the right connections to their history. The Soviets under Stalin killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1920s and 1930s in their take-over of the region and the forced collectivization of the agricultural sector in the then new Soviet Union, and the western Ukrainians have not forgotten that fact. In part, this is a reason for Kiev’s hatred for Moscow. It is just tragic that Russia has apparently forgotten its history and is now about to repeat one of the most catastrophic periods in all of Russian history, and in the process destroy global norms of behavior, which will threaten world peace.

 

 

 

Russian Reactions to the Crimean Crisis

Today is Sunday, March 23, 2014

I was waiting for the week after the Full Moon of March 16 to see what would happen in Crimea. True to form, within a week of the lunation, Putin annexed Crimea. In a previous post, I suggested we would get a foreshadowing of what was to come shortly after the Full Moon, and I think we have. The increased amassing of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border has caused alarm even inside Russia where the state-controlled media haven’t reported objectively on the situation. We are getting information, however, that the Russian people have a sense of impending aggression towards the Ukraine, and there was a mass demonstration in Moscow with more than 50,000 people in the streets demanding Putin keep his “hands off the Ukraine”.  http://rufabula.com/articles/2014/03/16/moscow-said-no-to-war

I still think the real crisis will come in the last two weeks of April as the fall out from the annexation of Crimea and the military intimidation the Russians are now demonstrating give the rest of the world time to formulate a unified reaction. Interestingly, and synchronistically, there will be a Solar Eclipse during that time triggering what political astrologers of the world refer to as the grand cardinal cross with stressful planetary alignments in the region. I am in contact with some of these astrologers in Russia and the Ukraine as well as in other Slavic speaking countries, and they are worried. We here in the States can sit back objectively, somewhat dispassionately, and worry just a little, but we will not have the same direct experience as these on-line friends in the region.

They are telling me that Putin is forcing statements from cultural leaders to support Russian expansion and nationalism. They will comply because their existence and financial support depend on following the party line. Russia’s theater, film and music industries are supported by the government and they have their super stars like any country. These super stars of popular culture are under pressure to announce their support for Putin, his politics, and his actions. There has been a noticeable drop off of facebook postings by the gay activist community in Russia since the Crimean crisis began, and what they are posting is a relatively mumbled approval of Putin and an unconvincing criticism of the Ukrainian government and people. In general, the propaganda coming out of Russia paints the Ukrainians and their new government as ‘fascist,’ when in reality, like any country, there is a spectrum of political view points from extreme right to the extreme left…from those who are adamantly against Russia and Russian influence in Ukrainian affairs to those who are completely for Russia being their political and cultural model.

This week, the Ukrainians went ahead with a new agreement with the EU to be ‘closer’ and to work on developing further their trade and cultural relations. At the same time, Putin sent thousands more troops to the Ukrainian border in an obvious attempt at intimidation. In addition, Putin has recently publicly suggested the ethnic Russians in the Baltic States are a concern of his. I don’t think he’s bluffing. I think we’ll see exactly what he has in mind next month.

What is Putin Risking?

Today is Monday, March 10, 2014.

I’ve been thinking about what happens next should Crimea be returned to Russian territory after the coming referendum. What impact will that actually have? If the world, and especially the E.U. and the U.S. don’t stop it, is it tantamount to ‘appeasement’? After all, we’ve seen Putin march into Georgia, and the world more or less let it happen without much push back. Did that embolden Putin? Now he’s trying to take the Crimea. What’s next? All of the Ukraine? Belarus? The Baltic States? There are voices from many corners of the international political scene who are suggesting that Putin has to be punished on some level, if for no other reason but to let him know this will have serious repercussions for Russia in the future.

But what repercussions? Just what is Putin risking by moving into Crimea? Russia’s economy is not that large or stable given the size of the population. It has only been 22 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic infrastructure for existing and thriving in a global capitalist economy is not quite complete. Should the U.S., the E.U. and others put economic sanctions on Russia, it will have a long term negative effect on the domestic economy. Putin has made it clear that he supports a Eurasian Economic Union as a next phase of globalization in that part of the world. Russia stands to benefit enormously from such an economic union, and without it, Russia’s economy will develop much more slowly. His move into Georgia was bad enough, but now the situation in Crimea, which is in complete violation of Russia’s international obligations, which Putin and Medvedev signed off on, creates an atmosphere of distrust. If Russia can so easily turn its back on its international agreements, who, in their right mind, will still want to put their investments into such a country? The world markets are sensitive to perceptions, feelings and emotions, and right now, the markets will not be happy with Russia if they take over Crimea. Any resulting sanctions against Russia will have a serious impact on the Russian people and the overall domestic economy.  There may be an initial positive nationalistic response–a rallying around the Russian flag, so to speak–but it won’t take long for dissatisfaction to set in, if their economy sputters–and it will.

Although I think Putin’s military response here was an emotional and rash reaction to the February 21st agreement in Kiev and Yanukovich’s ouster, the move was predictable given Putin’s larger agenda in Eastern Europe. If Putin ever believed, though, that he could separate Russia’s economic development in a globalized world economy from what I think is a necessary resulting global geopolitical culture, he will certainly suffer from the consequences of that belief after this Spring. He can’t continue to believe that he can keep Russia’s political culture from Western influences. He defiantly stands against the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights regarding gay issues in Russia, for example. He criticizes American and European social culture and stands behind the ‘traditional’ social culture of Russia. The politics of this situation has created a large-scale international critique of Russia’s ‘backwards’ ways. This irritates Putin to no end. Now, unfortunately for Putin, this move into Crimea ultimately isolates Russia geopolitically, threatens future investments in the country, and makes Russia too much of a risk for most countries and leaders to have serious, close relations. The situation has consequences much farther reaching than the international criticism over gay rights.

The U.S. and E.U. will have to bail out the Ukraine, because if they don’t, it will give Putin reason enough to stabilize the situation there with his military. Yet, such a Russian response will only destabilize the entire Eastern European region and create a political and economic earthquake for the E.U. and then, of course, for Russia as well. I can only hope that Putin is not so blinded by his nationalism and emotionalism that he can’t see the seriousness of the larger picture here. He could be risking Russia’s entire future as well as any lasting, positive legacy of his administration. At this point, he has refused to back down from his position in Crimea. His actions are seriously threatening Russia’s reputation and future role in the world of the 21st Century.

The U.S., E.U., Russia and the Ukraine

Today is Friday, March 7, 2014

The crisis continues in the Ukraine and it seems, based on media reports, op-eds and the many, many social media comments I’ve read, Americans are rather confused about the situation there. People are worried this could lead to an international war, with the U.S. and Russia as the two prime antagonists. Others, a little less paranoid, believe we are rapidly moving into another Cold War. Conservatives are blasting the Obama Administration’s ‘weak’ response–as if a ‘strong’ (i.e., military?) response would make Putin less aggressive. I don’t know if that’s cynicism or just stupidity. There are questions from Conservatives about the competence of our intelligence agencies, suggesting this was a surprise to Obama. That’s patently absurd. There have been reports from the beginning of the crisis, that the U.S. knew at least by February 21st, that Putin was amassing his army along the Ukrainian border. This was not a surprise.

Putin has made it clear for a decade now that he would not accept any country bordering Russia joining NATO. Yet, many of those countries, Ukraine and Georgia included, want to join NATO, and in the case of Ukraine, even become a full-fledged member of the E.U. Putin’s Cold War mentality rejects that possibility and, when Kiev began negotiations with the E.U. for a more involved economic and trade relationship, Putin became alarmed, basically bribed then President Yanukovich with a $15 Billion deal, and Yanukovich stopped the negotiations with the E.U. This led to violent demonstrations against the Yanukovich Administration by the pro-European population, and Putin clearly decided to put an end to the problem himself. He simply cannot accept a westward leaning Ukraine, not with his military bases and warm-water ports in Crimea. Russia appears determined to separate Crimea from the Ukraine and return it to Russian territory, no matter how illegitimate that is. What happens now is really up to Kiev. They will have to determine which steps to take next. What the E.U. and the U.S. will advise Kiev is being worked out in the diplomatic back-channels.

There’s a lot being made of the Russian/Ukrainian split within the Ukraine itself and how that’s part of this dynamic situation. There’s a misconception about this, though. Southeastern Ukraine does have a majority Russian ethnic population, however, everyone in Ukraine speaks both Russian and Ukrainian. The problem is more a generational one. The younger generation, who has never known a Soviet Ukraine, identify themselves as Ukrainian whether they are ethnic Russians or not. Most of the older generation who lived under the Soviet system, whether Ukrainian or Russian, see themselves as Russians. The biggest contention is with Crimea, itself. Since Crimea was Russian until 1954, and is completely tied to Russia in so many ways, there will now be a referendum in nine days to see whether the Crimeans want to remain in the Ukraine or be returned to Russia. However, there is no constitutional framework within either Russian or Ukrainian law for this kind of secession from Kiev or anschluss with Moscow. The government in Kiev is calling the referendum an act of treason. This is serious business and in the timing of things, we should see the first repercussions by March 17-18 and, by April 20, we will know if there is going to be a serious confrontation over Crimea.

The U.S. and the E.U. are trying hard through diplomatic negotiations to diffuse the tension, but as long as Putin feels that the West is unduly influential in Kiev, this tug-of-war will continue. If the West offers guarantees that the Ukraine will not become a member of NATO, Putin might well calm down. The Ukrainians may not like such a move, but they may not be in a position to protest too loudly. I seriously doubt the West will want to see a full-scale invasion of the Ukraine, because it could so easily lead to an escalation of military violence and the possibility of war. However, if Putin really wanted to take over the Ukraine, he would have done it last week with a surprise invasion with his entire military force sitting on the border. But even with Crimea, should it be returned to Russia, Putin will not accept the Ukraine turning to the West. I don’t think the world has much choice in this matter. I don’t see Putin backing down from his position. He has maintained his entire political life that the greatest catastrophe in the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union and he is quite transparent about his nationalistic desire for a new Russian empire in Eastern Europe–not that these countries would be absorbed again into the Russian Federation, but certainly as independent nations, he wants them to be under Moscow’s influence and direction.

I think the West’s only real option here is to tell Kiev, sorry, you can’t be in the E.U. and you can’t be in NATO, not if it it threatens world peace and the sovereignty of Eastern Europe. Ukraine in  both the E.U. and NATO would force Putin (in his mind) to reinforce his borders with other Eastern European countries which would put Belarus and the Baltic states in jeopardy. As long as Putin is in power and has no interest himself in moving Russia more towards Europe, but rather, again, developing Russia as a separate counter-culture and political power to the West, there is little the West can do to dissuade him. Putin will accept globalization only in economic terms and he absolutely rejects a global geopolitical culture. The world will have to live with that and figure out policies that make it work.

NATO clearly has an interest in the stability of the region and Kiev may want to benefit from what NATO has to offer, but it may have to be as something less than a full-fledged NATO member. I don’t see this as ‘acquiescing’ to Russia or being ‘weak’ in the face of Russian aggression. It is, to be sure, a form of Real Politik. But as long as Putin holds to his nationalism and lack of interest in participating in a globally shared geopolitical culture, the West has no other option but to accept it, transform our relationship and policies, and move on. Yet, now, in the short term, levels of sanctions will be set against Russia, some unilateral from the U.S., probably some minor sanctions will come from the E.U. as well. Russia has its own non-military arsenal, e.g., shutting off the gas pipelines to and through the Ukraine. Putin is already threatening to do that, if the Ukraine can’t pay its $5 Billion debt. This would, of course, severely impact Europe, particularly Germany who is very dependent on Russian natural gas. But, in the end, although there are plenty of non-military options to throw at Russia, it doesn’t look like, especially in the E.U., there’s much interest in putting that much pressure on Russia, realizing that Putin is not interested in invading the Ukraine. Obama will have to include that reality in his calculus.

The Crisis in the Ukraine

Today is Friday, February 28, 2014.

So we woke up this morning to reports that apparently Russian troops are, indeed, on the ground in Crimea allegedly surrounding the airport and taking down telecommunications to the outside world. Initial estimates from U.S. and European intelligence agencies say there are about 2,000 ‘unidentified’ troops, dressed in civilian and military clothing. Those armed military personnel are masked, have no names, no insignia, and are driving unmarked and unlicensed vehicles. Reporters on the ground have got no response from direct questions to these ‘soldiers’ about who they are and where they’re from.

President Putin of Russia and his foreign minister have suggested that this is completely within the framework of a bilateral agreement with the Ukraine regarding a military presence within the peninsula. That is a strange claim, since 1994 at the Budapest Conference, Russia agreed that the borders of the Ukraine were firm and the country was protected as a completely sovereign nation. Russia, in fact, has been a world leader in promoting national sovereignty, especially as it relates, for example, to Syria. If Russia has ‘invaded’ the Crimean peninsula, Putin has undermined his position regarding national sovereignty as a universal principle.

Crimea was originally part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, but was ‘given’ to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. As I said above, the national borders of the Ukraine were confirmed and approved by Russia in 1994, and that included Crimea. The people there are almost all ethnic Russians with only a few Ukrainians. The peninsula is culturally, economically, linguistically, and militarily tied to Moscow, and I would assume that is the reason for Putin’s response to the crisis in the Ukraine. It’s no secret that ethnic Ukrainians have no love for Russia–there’s been a history of hegemonic control, mass murder and starvation at the hands of Russia. The stress of living next to powerful Russia has been a historical nightmare for Ukrainians. Today we have another example of why the Ukrainians wanted guarantees from Russia back in ’94 to honor their sovereign borders.

Russia has much economic leverage over the Ukraine, though. If Russia shut off the valve for natural gas, it would mean as much as a $5 Billion loss for the Ukraine. Their economy is already on the ropes and will clearly need as much economic support from the U.S. and the E.U. as possible in order to keep their economy afloat. The Russian military is already amassed on the eastern border of the Ukraine and there are fleets of tanks and also helicopters flying over Ukrainian territory today. This is ostensibly because of Russian troops stationed at the base in Crimea who will need protection from radical Ukrainian elements that might want to attack any Russian soldiers in the country. There’s also the long-standing agricultural trade between the two countries. Russia plays a very important role in the sustainability of the Ukraine as a nation. This is part of the problem, since the Ukrainians generally would like to see the country turn westward to develop their economic and agricultural trade potential with the E.U. They want to ‘modernize and liberalize’, and they see that possibility only with Western Europe.

So, how will Europe and the U.S. respond to this crisis? Well, clearly they are taking the situation very seriously. There will be no military action, I’m sure, but there are ways to get at Putin and create difficulties for him. For example, the E.U. and the U.S. could step in economically and provide the billions necessary to keep the country afloat. This would make it difficult for Russia as the Ukraine’s largest trade partner and most important country in its economic situation. The U.S. and the E.U. are threatening not to participate in the G-8 Conference to be held in June in Sochi. This would be an embarrassment to Putin, since he has put huge amounts of money into developing the site for this G-8 Conference that he has been planning now for years. NATO could decide to accept Georgia, which would put a NATO country on Russia’s southern border–something completely unacceptable to Russia, and something the U.S. has, for diplomatic reasons, not supported. This situation, however, could change the U.S. position regarding Georgia, which would surely enrage Putin.

If the U.S. and the E.U. could convince the interim government in the Ukraine to include ethnic Russians from the eastern and southern areas of the country in the new government, it would go a long way in showing the world they are ‘one country’ and Russia has no business flexing their muscles in order to ‘protect’ Russians inside the Ukraine. In fact, I believe, this is essential in order to diffuse the situation. It would be a sort of geopolitical checkmate against Russia and it would make it very difficult for Russia to escalate their military involvement.

The U.N. won’t be weighing in on this situation, because Russia is on the Security Council with veto power. This forces the U.S., the E.U. and perhaps China to step up on their own and with one voice to keep Russia from invading. Yet, today, the Ukrainian government has already claimed that Russia has launched an invasion. This is probably a bit overstated, but it creates a crisis that the whole world has to respond to.

This is another event that strains the relationship between Russia and the West. Russians did not respond well to the U.S. and European political leaders not coming to the Olympics. They were, by all accounts, insulted and couldn’t understand the protest against their ‘gay propaganda’ law. For the West  once again diplomatically to put Russia on the ropes over the crisis in the Ukraine, further strains the relationship between the two geopolitical regions, because the Russians, in a recent fit of nationalism, generally believe the Crimea belongs to them anyway and if they take it back, it’s no one’s business if they do.

If Russia launches a full-scale invasion of the Ukraine, there will be a serious international crisis that will prove that Putin plans to rebuild a Russian empire and develop a clear hegemony over Eastern Europe. Europe, Asia and the Americas will have to do something to counter such a move. I doubt it will include military action, but it will mean everything short of the military will be thrown at Russia.