The conversation ran about 30 minutes and touched on the background of Ukraine’s current crisis as well as the historical and material forces shaping U.S. relations with Russia.
We start with the background of the Azov Battalion and its leader, Andriy Biletsky. Biletsky is an open white supremacist and, as noted by Bloomberg News, describes the Azov Battalion as “storm troops” who were previously caught beating up black immigrants. In 2007, Biletsky articulated his opposition to sanctions for racism by claiming:
So why the ‘Negro-love’ on a legislative level? They want to break everyone who has risen to defend themselves, their family, their right to be masters of their own land! They want to destroy the Nation’s biological resistance to everything alien and do to us what happened to Old Europe, where the immigrant hordes are a nightmare for the French, Germans and Belgians, where cities are ‘blackening’ fast and crime and the drug trade are invading even the remotest corners.
Biletsky was jailed in 2011 after his group was reportedly involved in fighting and shootouts. After the 2014 coup, Biletsky was released. Now, his Azov Battalion is receiving U.S. training and aid.
We then discussed why the U.S. did not want a “frozen conflict,” that the war in east Ukraine was good for the government in Kiev which needs distractions from its paralyzing corruption and instability thanks to a corrupt oligarch class.
The U.S. wants the war to go on, but only neo-fascists and neo-Nazis seem interested in going to war. Most Ukrainian men of fighting age want nothing to do with the war and, as reported by Foreign Policy Magazine, are dodging the draft on a large-scale.
As the discussion turned to how Nazi sympathies became pervasive in Ukraine for historical reasons, it was noted that Azov Battalion Spokesman Andriy Diachenko actually admitted to USA Today that 10-20% of the men under arms in the militia had Nazi loyalties. The percentage is likely significantly higher, but any number of armed neo-Nazis getting U.S. training and support is troubling.
Scott noted that the neo-fascist militias themselves are a threat to the government in Kiev, citing the Right Sector openly stating they might overthrow the Poroshenko government in a “New revolution.” Given that Right Sector members have recently been involved in shootouts with Ukrainian state security forces, it seems far from an idle threat.
The conversation also touched on how foreign affairs writers in the U.S. establishment and fellow-traveling media have begun to splinter on Ukraine. From op-eds in The Washington Post warning of neo-fascists taking over, to divisions at the Brookings Institution, and even open denunciations by pedigreed foreign policy intellectuals in the pages of Foreign Affairs — the journal for the Council on Foreign Relations.
Scott and I also discussed a surreal hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March of 2015, where Senators and various current and former U.S. government officials tried to rewrite history and dishonestly claim that the Budapest Agreement had secret provisions that included a defense treaty.
Ironically, it was current Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, a negotiator at the time of the agreement, who threw cold water on the idea that there was a defensive provision, earning her the ire of Senators Menendez and Johnson and the rest of the neocons.
We also touched on the grand strategy aspect of the U.S. intervention in Ukraine. In his 1997 book, “The Grand Chessboard,” Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski famously wrote, “Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.”
For the old Cold Warriors, taking Ukraine is the grand checkmate, the long term goal pursued after the Cold War ended that drove reckless NATO expansion across Eastern Europe to Russia’s doorstep. A rough consensus of Western intellectuals believe it was NATO expansion that primarily or significantly contributed to current tensions between the West and Russia.
Scott referenced other strategists such as Halford Mackinder and his “Heartland Theory,” which suggests that the nation that controls Eastern Europe controls the world, as well as Alfred McCoy’s writing on how essential control of Eurasia is to the great powers.
Finally, we also discussed how, grand designs aside, much of the current tension in Ukraine and more generally between the West and Russia revolve around material concerns for those in the U.S. and European security establishment.
The end of the Cold War was potentially catastrophic for the U.S. military-industrial complex and its European equivalent. For the first time, military planners and the arms industry saw budget cuts out of the so-called “peace dividend.”
Meanwhile, defense industry executives began pushing for the expansion of NATO and a more aggressive U.S. foreign policy. Scott mentioned that former Lockheed Martin executive Bruce Jackson was a good case study in this phenomenon, because he lobbied for expanding NATO and also founded the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.
After 9/11, there was hope that radical Islam could take the place of the Soviet Union, but the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan along with the nature of the threat from terrorists with limited military assets meant defense spending on large-scale projects still could not be justified. Now, with Russia and the crisis in Ukraine, there is new hope for finding some desperate rational for the trillion dollar boondoggle known as the F-35 and the continued relevance of NATO.