The US and its key allies in Nato are preparing militarily for confrontation with Russia, or any potential rivals - increasing the risk of future bloodshed writes Alastair Stephens
They have been like headlines from darkest days of the Cold War: “Russian troops massing on the border! Tanks set to roll”
Will they invade? When will they attack?
That Crimea would only be the start of campaign of seizures by Russia has become an underlying assumption of much of the commentary. Hasn't Russia always been an expansionist power after all?
Then Putin announced that Russia was pulling its troops back from the border and called for the referendums in the east to be called off, and this narrative was called into question.
Either it must just be a ruse on his part, or the dominant narrative wrong.
No guesses which formulation the media has gone for. The wily fox is just trying to keep everyone off guard. The "War on Ukraine" continues. We must prepare for the worst.
Rhetoric with a purpose
This Cold war rhetoric is serving a purpose though.
It is acting as a justification for increased arms spending and further Nato expansion.
For instance in just one recent statement, after accusing Russia of expansionism and militarism, the head of Nato Anders Fogh Rassmussen said that “Above all, we must stop the decline of our defence budgets. And start reinvesting in our security.”
Not wanting to let a good crisis go to waste Nato leaders have sought to use the Russian menace to once again justify its own existence and the waste billions on useless baroque and useless military technology.
After a twenty years of having to find new missions (“nation building”, “liberal intervention”) it can now get back to its original mission, defence of the “western civilization” against the Russian hordes.
Behind the hype
To maintain a narrative like this against the weight of evidence and logic requires a fair amount of hypocrisy.
So whilst western and the Ukrainian governments through the mass media pour cold water on Russian denials of a desire to invade, if you listen carefully to what the soldiers and the intelligence community are saying you get another story.
So only days ago Air Force General Philip Breedlove, Nato's top commander in Europe told Reuters referring to the threat of invasion that:
"Today I would tell you I don't think that's the most likely course of action ... I think now that Putin may be able to accomplish his objectives in eastern Ukraine and never go across the border with his forces...
“Now I think probably the most likely course of action is that he will continue doing what he's doing - discrediting the government, creating unrest, trying to set the stage for a separatist movement,"
This is of course what most western analysts predicted Putin would do: pursue a mixed strategy of applied pressure and trouble making.
Invasion, would be the last resort, and probably counter-productive.
For example Stratfor notes that the issue for Russia is its defence through strategic depth. Restoring this is its priority now, and one forced on it by the overthrow of Yanukovich, which represents “a major defeat of the Russian Federation”.
George Friedman wrote that Russia would put:
“pressure on mainland Ukraine with some limited incursions; working to create unrest in the Baltics, where large Russian-speaking minorities live, and in the Caucasus and Moldova; and pursuing a strategy to prevent Eastern Europe from coalescing into a single entity. Simultaneously, Russia is likely to intervene in areas that are sensitive to the United States while allowing the Ukrainian government to be undermined by its natural divisions.“
Troops on the border
How then to explain the troops on the border?
It is hardly surprising that Russia has massed troops there. After all a friendly government of a neighbouring country has been forcefully overthrown and replaced with one which is vehemently hostile. Some in the new regime positively desire war with Russia.
Not to mention the whole Ukrainian state and economy is on the verge of collapse. What power wouldn't do the same?
After all the British state had to bring in troops in just to do Olympics security and pump out some flood water, let alone deal with civil war and ethnic cleansing in a neighbouring state.
That is not to justify such militaristic posturing, it is an attempt to intimidate a neighbour, one it had long oppressed, but we should remind ourselves of hypocrisy of our own governments and their posing as somehow superior to the perfidious Russians.
Our rulers have invaded rather more countries in recent years than Russia in recent decades.
Likewise the media obsess about Russian willingness to intervene in the states of the former Soviet Union in defence of Russians, whilst forgetting (or measuring differently) the great pride the US takes in its willingness to intervene anywhere in the world to do the same.
A number of different forces have fed the war hysteria. Amongst them the Russians themselves, who though denying that they intend to invade, would also like others to think that this might just be a possibility. Fear of war is a card that every side can play in the poker game of geo-politics.
However the stakes now being played for are much higher than they were previously. Things do not always go to plan, and situations can quickly spin out of control, as at least one World War proves.
This game of bluff might still end without a full scale civil war or international conflagration, but people have already died and a well of bitterness could be filling up that will overflow at a later date.
Certainly the US and its key allies in Nato are using the current situation to prepare itself militarily for confrontation with Russia, or any other power that may challenge them in the future, and by doing so increase the risk of future bloodshed.
Alastair Stephens has been a socialist his whole adult life and has been active in Unison and the TGWU. He studied Russian at Portsmouth, Middle East Politics at SOAS and writes regularly for the Counterfire website.