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Reprinted from Consortium News
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses a crowd on May 9, 2014, celebrating the 69th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Crimean port city of Sevastopol from the Nazis.
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With high symbolism Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting Crimea "to check on the construction of the Kerch Strait Bridge, which will link the Crimean peninsula and continental Russia," the Kremlin announced on Thursday.
As the Russians like to say, "It is no accident" that he chose today -- marking the second anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea three weeks after the U.S.-sponsored coup in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, and just days after a referendum in which Crimean voters approved leaving Ukraine and re-joining Russia by a 96 percent majority.
The 12-mile bridge is a concrete metaphor, so to speak, for the re-joining of Crimea and Russia. When completed (the target is December 2018), it will be the longest bridge in Russia.
Yet, the Obama administration continues to decry the political reunion between Crimea and Russia, a relationship that dates back to the Eighteenth Century. Instead, the West has accused Russia of violating its pledge in the 1994 Budapest agreement -- signed by Ukraine, Russia, Great Britain and the U.S. -- "to respect the independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine," in exchange for Ukraine surrendering its Soviet-era nuclear weapons.
Did Moscow violate the Budapest agreement when it annexed Crimea? A fair reading of the text yields a Yes to that question. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances, including alarm among Crimeans over what the unconstitutional ouster of Ukraine's president might mean for them, as well as Moscow's not unfounded nightmare of NATO taking over Russia's major, and only warm-water, naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea.
But what is seldom pointed out is that the other parties, including the United States, seem to have been guilty, too, in promoting a coup d'etat removing the democratically elected president and essentially disenfranchising millions of ethnic Russian Ukrainians who had voted for President Viktor Yanukovych. In such a context, it takes a markedly one-dimensional view to place blame solely on Russia for violating the Budapest agreement.
Did the Western-orchestrated coup in Kiev violate the undertaking "to respect the independence and sovereignty" of Ukraine? How about the pledge in the Budapest agreement "to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by the Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty." Political and economic interference were rife in the months before the February 2014 coup. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Who Violated Ukraine's Sovereignty?"]
Did Ukrainian President Yanukovych expect to be overthrown if he opted for Moscow's economic offer, and not Europe's? Hard to tell. But if the putsch came as a total surprise, he sorely underestimated what $5 billion in "democracy promotion" by Washington can buy.
After Yanukovych turned down the European Community's blandishments, seeing deep disadvantages for Ukraine, American neoconservatives like National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland pulled out all the stops to enable Ukraine to fulfill what Nuland called its "European aspirations."
"The revolution will not be televised," or so the saying goes. But the Feb. 22, 2014 putsch in Kiev was YouTube-ized two-and-a-half weeks in advance. Recall Nuland's amateurish, boorish -- not to mention irresponsible -- use of an open telephone line to plot regime change in Ukraine with fellow neocon, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, during an intercepted conversation posted on YouTube on Feb. 4.
Nuland tells Pyatt, "Yats is the guy. He's got the economic experience, the governing experience. He's the guy you know. ... He has warned there is an urgent need for unpopular cutting of subsidies and social payments before Ukraine can improve."
Arseniy Yatsenyuk (aka "Yats") was quickly named prime minister of the coup regime, which was immediately given diplomatic recognition by Washington. Since then, he has made a royal mess of things. Ukraine is an economic basket case, and "Yats" barely survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence and is widely believed to be on his way out.
Did Moscow's strong reaction to the coup, to the danger of NATO setting up shop next door in Ukraine come as a surprise to Nuland and other advisers? If so, she ought to get new advisers, and quickly. That Russia would not let Crimea become a NATO base should have been a no-brainer.
Nuland may have seen the coup as creating a win-win situation. If Putin acted decisively, it would be all the easier to demonize him, denounce "Russian aggression," and put a halt to the kind of rapprochement between President Barack Obama and Putin that thwarted neocon plans for shock and awe against Syria in late summer 2013. However, if Putin acquiesced to the Ukrainian coup and accepted the dangers it posed to Russia, eventual membership for Ukraine in NATO might become more than a pipedream.
Plus, if Putin swallowed the humiliation, think of how politically weakened he would have become inside Russia. As NED's Gershman made clear, not only did American neocons see Ukraine as "the biggest prize" but as a steppingstone to ultimately achieve "regime change" in Moscow, or as Gershman wrote, "Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself."
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