Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 5, 2014

A new Cold War with Russia? Really?

Filed under: Russia — louisproyect @ 8:33 pm

At the garbage dump

You know that scene in “The Getaway” when Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw make their escape in a garbage truck? It saved their lives but you can tell from the disgusted look on their face that it was no fun to dig the fish bones and cigarette butts out of their hair and pockets. That’s the way I feel about a day’s worth of Facebook references to NATO’s closing in on Russia using Ukraine as a battering ram.

Were these people born in 2008 or something? There’s so much evidence of lovey-dovey relations between the White House and the Kremlin that I am led to believe so. Let’s start with Yeltsin’s war on Chechnya that was only consummated with Putin’s scorched earth policy that left around 10 percent of its population dead. Some “anti-imperialists” at the time rallied around Putin in the same way that they are rallying around Bashar al-Assad today, who is clearly adopting Grozny type mass murder tactics to Aleppo, Homs and elsewhere.

Here’s what President Clinton said at a press conference on April 21, 1996:

Let me make two brief points. First of all, I think the record will reflect that the United States has consistently supported a political solution to the Chechnya crisis and offered its support for that. And when President Yeltsin made his announcement on March 31st, we supported that.

You say that there are some who say we should have been more openly critical. I think it depends upon your first premise; do you believe that Chechnya is a part of Russia or not? I would remind you that we once had a Civil War in our country in which we lost on a percapita basis far more people than we lost in any of the wars of the 20th century over the proposition that Abraham Lincoln gave his life for, that no State had a right to withdraw from our Union.

That’s really rich. Boris Yeltsin as Russia’s Abe Lincoln. Pardon me while I vomit all over my Macbook.

And then after 2001, the USA invades Afghanistan to supposedly gain control over oil pipelines according once again to our pinheaded anti-imperialists. Didn’t they realize that Russia bought in entirely to that war on the border of former Soviet republics based on the evidence of its willingness to fuel it—literally?

Twenty years ago, it would have been inconceivable for a U.S. war effort to rely exclusively on Russia and its allies for one of America’s most sought-after resources. In 2013, it is a reality.

Almost every drop of fuel used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan comes from Russia and other former Soviet countries, most of which Russia still has considerable sway. The U.S. purchased roughly 22 million gallons of fuel for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in June alone, which officials say was an average month.

Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, the Russian government invaded neighboring Georgia, endured a string of domestic terrorist attacks, helped investigate Chechen links to the alleged Boston bombers, and chose to provide asylum to the source of one of America’s greatest breaches in intelligence. Amid all of this, the gas kept coming.


You can also read all about Putin’s desire that the USA maintain its bases in Afghanistan from the Moscow Times:

On May 9, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced he would allow the U.S. to keep nine military bases in Afghanistan after direct U.S. participation in the Afghan war ends in 2014. How has President Vladimir Putin responded to the possibility that Afghanistan may turn into “one giant U.S. aircraft carrier,” as Kremlin-friendly political analyst Yury Krupnov recently put it?

After Karzai’s announcement, you might have expected the Kremlin to offer its usual bluster about how the U.S. and NATO are trying to create a suffocating “Anaconda ring” around Russia — from the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, Georgia and Turkey to Afghanistan, South Korea and Japan. You might even have expected a dose of the anti-U.S. demagoguery about the U.S. government using Afghan bases to run a lucrative narcotics-export business, including daily flights of U.S. cargo aircraft filled with heroin destined for Russia and Europe. Or that U.S. bases in Afghanistan could be used for an attack on Russia. After all, Yury Krupnov and other conservative, pro-Kremlin analysts are particularly fond of reminding Russians that a U.S. nuclear missile could reach Moscow from the U.S. airbase in ­Bagram, Afghanistan, in less than 20 minutes.


Instead Putin said: “We have a strong interest in our southern borders being calm,” Putin said. “We need to help them [U.S. and coalition forces]. Let them fight. … This is in Russia’s national interests.” It made a lot of sense for him to state this since the same fear and hatred of Muslims on Russia’s southern flanks explains the murderous attack on Chechnya that was a counterpart to what Bush and Obama have been doing in Afghanistan and more recently in Waziristan.

Speaking of Bush, how can anybody forget the Bromance between him and Putin? From the May 23, 2002 BBC:

Analysis: Bush and Putin on nickname terms

Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President George W Bush meet in Crawford Texas
The leaders presented an old pals’ act last time they met

By Paul Reynolds

George W Bush likes to give people nicknames. It is nice for those who receive them – especially journalists and politicians, as it gives them the sense that they are on the inside track.

Those who do not get them, dismiss them as a sign that parts of Dubya – his name for himself – never really grew up.

Mr Bush has given Vladimir Putin, the steely-faced son of the KGB and now President of Russia, a nickname. It is Pootie-Poot.

It is not known if Pootie-Poot will respond with his own offering.

Improbable relationship

But all this indicates that relations between Mr Bush and Mr Putin are good. And it has been growing for some time. Remember last June, when Mr Bush surprised the world by declaring after a meeting with Mr Putin in Slovenia: “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

This rang rather true. George Bush does like to look people in the eye. He has a habit of pausing between sentences (which are usually more lucid in private than in public), cocking his head and waiting for a response.

It is an improbable relationship. On the one hand, there is the chirpy Texan, and on the other, the stern apparatchik. One cannot imagine that dinner table talk is a bundle of fun.

But it is a balance of interests. It is based on a belief by Mr Bush that Mr Putin is genuinely trying to bring Russia into line with the Western world.

Mr Putin has not made big issues out of the policies which Mr Bush has favoured – especially the missile defence system.

And they have just reached agreement on a new Nato-Russia consultation mechanism and on reducing deployed missile warheads from some 6000 to 2,200 each.


Russia, therefore, is ceasing to be a threat to the West, in deed as well as in word. A historian might say – Russia blinked first.

From Mr Putin’s point of view, Mr Bush has not caused trouble over Russia’s own backyard problem – Chechnya. This is a trade-off for Russian support in the US-led war on terrorism which was declared after the 11 September attacks.

Mr Putin also needs American support for Russian economic ambitions. Without a strong economy, Russia cannot be strong again.

It was summed up in a comment to Time magazine by Mr Bush’s National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice, a Russian specialist who also worked for George Bush senior.

She said: “To see the kind of relationship that Presidents Bush and Putin have developed and to see Russia firmly anchored in the West – that’s really a dream of 300 years, not just of the post-Cold War era.”

Six years later the Bromance cooled off when Georgia fought Russia over some disputed territory, a one-sided war if there ever was one. Like today, Putin blamed the USA for instigating the conflict but that was probably more as a way to shift blame for the conflict from himself (not that the Georgian government was entirely innocent.) Given the opportunity to intervene on behalf of George Soros, Western banks, NATO, and the IMF, George W. Bush showed a diffident side never on display when it came to Iraq or Afghanistan.

All he did was make a statement, about the same thing basically as Obama is doing now.

Russia has stated that changing the government of Georgia is not its goal. The United States and the world expect Russia to honor that commitment. Russia has also stated that it has halted military operations and agreed to a provisional cease-fire. Unfortunately, we’re receiving reports of Russian actions that are inconsistent with these statements. We’re concerned about reports that Russian units have taken up positions on the east side of the city of Gori, which allows them to block the East-West Highway, divide the country, and threaten the capital of Tbilisi.

Ouch, that must have really hurt.

Since the same sorts of people who have stood up for Bashar al-Assad are now backing Putin in the Ukraine, it should not come as a surprise that the same kind of “sky is falling” WWIII hysteria is cropping up again just as it did after Obama’s empty “red line” bluffing. Here, if anything, is a reminder of where things stood toward the end of 2013 as Obama calibrated his relationship with Russia—not that it ever had anything to do with the Cold War to begin with. Here’s Fred Weir, one of the sharper minds on Russia:

Secretary of State John Kerry huddled in the Kremlin for several hours with President Vladimir Putin Tuesday, in what US officials described as an effort to “intensify” US-Russia dialogue and inject some fresh juice into a bilateral relationship that’s been stumbling aimlessly, amid growing acrimony, for over a year.

More urgently, he told Mr. Putin that Russia and the United States must try harder to forge a common position on the fast-deteriorating situation in Syria, where conflicting charges of chemical weapons usage have alarmed the big powers, and a series of Israeli airstrikes in recent days have raised the specter of a much wider war.

“The United States believes that we share some very significant common interests with respect to Syria,” Mr. Kerry told Putin.

Those mutual interests include promoting stability in the region, blocking extremists from gaining power, and working together to broker a peaceful political transition for the civil war-wracked country, he added.


Let me conclude by saying that “blocking extremists from gaining power” likely means anybody who yells “Alluah Akbar” after shooting down a Baathist helicopter.


  1. This is an argument that seems to be saying that interimperialist rivalries don’t exist anymore. No need to pay any attention to a “chessboard”. If that is an incorrect interpretation, then when do they begin to exist and matter?

    My own view is, not only do they exist, but the dissolution of the USSR in particular opened the gates to further intensification, in an palpably accelerating trend.

    An existence I don’t believe in is that of a so-called “US Global Empire”, nor a US global hegemony, or however one wants to spin this fairy-tale. We live in a international system of states jostling in the division and redivision of a region or the world. And that’s not because Lenin (and others) said that in 1916. But because the “alternative” is a sort of globalist conspiracy theorizing. And that’s exactly the problem with the “anti-imperialists” in search of a “counter-hegemon” to hitch their political star to: a connect-the-dots conspiracy theory of an all powerful U.S. imperialism.

    It won’t do to work the same method, but in the “opposite” direction.

    Comment by matthewrusso9 — March 5, 2014 @ 11:30 pm

  2. This is an argument that seems to be saying that interimperialist rivalries don’t exist anymore.

    Of course they exist but analogies I have seen with Hitler’s penetration of Eastern Europe in the late 30s are absurd.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 6, 2014 @ 12:05 am

  3. “We live in a international system of states jostling in the division and redivision of a region or the world.”

    Which is why they get along in some instances when it is in their interest to do so, and they don’t when it is not.

    My problem with the “counter-hegemon” approach is that it results in the eradication of any historical agency, people are reduced to being pawns of one side or the other, without any potential for understanding their social conditions and taking action to improve them. If you believe this, why be a leftist at all? Why not be a disciple of Metternich, Kissinger or Tallyrand instead?

    In the Ukraine, the US, the EU and the Russian Republic are competing for supremacy, with the populace left to navigate their way through the wreckage. They rightly rebelled against Yanokovich, will they likewise rebel against what the EU and the US have planned for them? If they do, they will have to somehow overcome the nationalist divisions used to manipulate them.

    Your reference in Lenin in 1916 is provocative. Are we about to enter a time where the masses are about to challenge the elites who control the current international order?

    Comment by Richard Estes — March 6, 2014 @ 12:15 am

  4. The US have definitely with the election of Obama moved from trying to include Russia under its hegemonic umbrella to its appeasement as a partner in the War on Terror. But the idea that we are returning to the Cold War is wishful thinking nostalgia. The efforts of the neo-Cons to consolidate the position of the US as sole and only global hegemon post-Cold War saw it disatrously bogged down in Iraq and financially bankrupted. The retreat from that to an effort to manage the return to multi-polarity in a way that would allow the States to remain at least the first among equals is not leading to a new bi-polar Cold War style arrangement but the re-emergence of multi-polar inter-imperialist rivalry. The epoch of war and revolution has re-opened especially when America decides that it needs to put everybody back in their boxes but discovers it’s too late.

    There will be a Third World War but only if the developing world revolution fails. The task in Ukraine is not to take the neo-Con or the seemingly opposed but actually identical world view neo-Stalinism but transcend this fake dichotomy to side with the struggling masses independently of the established powers. Workers of all countries unite. There is a whole world to gain.

    Comment by davidellis987 — March 6, 2014 @ 11:15 am

  5. I saw something that I deem quite important on the German version of Yahoo this morning before I left the house. An article stated that a taped telephone converstaion between the EU foreign minister and a minister of some sort in Estonia (or was it Latvia) was released and on this tape the EU foriegn minister is heard saying that it was most likely the opposition that was responsible for the massacre in Kiev that led to the downfall of the former government. The Government of Estonia confirmed the authenticity of the phone call. For me this is a game changer.
    I can not imagine that the EU F.M. would have not said this in a private conversation unless she had evidence that it was true. It makes everything that the Russians have done up until now seem much more reasonable. It seems I owe Putin an appology for having grossly over reacted to the events in Ukraine. If these charges are true it means that the democratically elected government there was over thrown under false pretenses. Maybe the old rulers of Ukraine were ass holes but was the election process in that country as disfunctional as it is in the USA?
    What is just as interesting is when I got home to re read this report I could not find it anywhere. Was it removed because it was clever propoganda or was it removed as damage control. I suspect the later.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — March 6, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

  6. This report that originated on Russian television is a cleverly edited version of a conversation. Here’s the real story:


    Comment by louisproyect — March 6, 2014 @ 3:20 pm

  7. From the Guardian article Louis references:
    “So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition,” Paet says.

    Comment by ken — March 6, 2014 @ 11:04 pm

  8. Sorry. My mistake. This was the article I meant to forward: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/05/us-estonia-eu-ukraine-idUSBREA2423O20140305. In terms of fascists working as agents provocateurs. It is entirely possible but I am not sure what that has to do with the people who came to Maidan to protest. Most of them wanted nothing more than to get rid of Yanukovych and to join the EU. Do you think that this is a hoax as well?

    Comment by louisproyect — March 6, 2014 @ 11:16 pm

  9. Louis.
    In response to your question I read somewhere, forget where but it was charged that the sniper attacks were a more important factor in enraging the population against the government than its failure to reach an agreement with the EU officials. But now after being able to read in greater detail what the EU and the Estonian Minister said I think that the case supporting agent provacteurs seems week.
    At the momement I am really pissed about Putin’s overreaction to the events in Ukraine. But I am even more pissed about the actions of western leaders surrounding these events. It is my understanding that in an American court of law that selective enforcement of the law is a legitmate defense. If this is true and Putin has launched a war of aggression and he could be some miracle be held accountable I do not think that he should have to begin serving his sentence until 11 years after American and western European leaders begin serving their sentences for launching wars of aggression. If any of the western leaders should die without having been convicted then so should Putin.
    Putin MIGHT be an ass but at worst he is a threat to between 200 million and 350 million people. The leadership of the USA is a threat to 7 billion people. Until the greater threat is neutralized I really do not have much interest in complaining about smaller threats like Russia or Iran or China or Syria unless these smaller threats begin acting like the leadership of Nazi Germany or Ruwanda or Communist Cambodia..

    Comment by Curt Kastens — March 7, 2014 @ 9:44 am

  10. You use a Mac book and like any Mac user had to make sure everyone knows it. What a wanker

    Comment by moody patio — March 7, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

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