As the nation laid to rest President George H.W. Bush, little attention was given to what perhaps were his most perceptive observations.
One of them was made in 1989, when the USSR was being opened up by Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms and his abandonment of communist expansionist ideology. Bush noted favorably the idea of joining Moscow in a new security architecture from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
The second one was two years later, in August 1991 during a trip to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. At that time, Ukraine was still a part of a Soviet Union that was becoming noticeably unstable. Bush counseled Ukrainians: “Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.”
Bush’s strategic vision was abandoned by his successors Bill Clinton; his own son, George W. Bush; and Barack Obama. In the words of one of America’s most distinguished diplomats, George Kennan, all three have committed “a tragic foreign policy mistake” by expanding NATO toward Russia’s borders. Mr. Obama finished the job by co-sponsoring with the European Union and the 2014 coup in Ukraine.
In his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump promoted ideas consistent with those of Ronald Reagan and the senior Bush to reduce the antagonism between the two nuclear superpowers. But after assuming office, Mr. Trump was quickly called to order by the “adults in the room,” who obviously knew better than the president and more than 63 million Americans who voted for him and his agenda.
As for Bush’s 1991 warning to Ukrainians, William Safire of The New York Times denounced it at the time as a “colossal misjudgment,” dubbing it the “Chicken Kiev Speech” — a label that stuck. As we see now, Bush was right and his critics were wrong.
Ukraine did get its independence four months later, when the USSR dissolved, but beneath the facade of the new state were deep ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional divisions. These were compounded by hopelessly corrupt governance at the mercy of ruthless oligarchic interests.
Since 1991, Ukraine’s divisions have worsened. Astonishingly, so has the corruption as Bush’s Kievan chickens have now come home to roost.
No one knows why Victoria Nuland, Mr. Obama’s assistant secretary of state, proudly revealed that U.S. taxpayers provided $5 billion to promote democracy in Ukraine. Was this astronomical amount wasted?
Indeed, some money was stolen, but people in the know believe the real purpose of this bounty was implementing the agenda of Zbigniew Brzezinski and other advocates of the “unipolar” world order by breaking the historical ties between Russia and Ukraine to prevent Moscow from ever gaining strength to challenge U.S. hegemony.
In the end, Bush’s vision of reconciling Russia with the West failed. Ukraine, which was one of the richest and technologically advanced republics of the USSR, is now the poorest country in Europe, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Taking into account his dismal re-election prospects, President and oligarch Petro Poroshenko (while continuing to make money in Russia) is whipping up nationalism and is seeking to drag us into military conflict with a nuclear power. Even worse, he seems to be succeeding as more and more voices on Capitol Hill call for introducing a greater U.S. and NATO presence in the Black Sea region and increasing military assistance to our “ally.”
Only the blind can’t see that the recent incident in the Kerch Strait was masterminded by Mr. Poroshenko, whose single-digit poll rating is tied with comic actor Vladimir Zelensky’s. The difference is that Mr. Zelensky’s job is to make people laugh while Mr. Poroshenko can crank up the heat whenever he thinks his shaky political prospects demand it.
All he needs is another incident with Russia, and it’s a no-lose bet for him as Mr. Poroshenko knows that contrary to Bush’s 1991 pledge that Washington would not support “suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred” it is doing exactly that.
Allies are supposed to share American values, but deepening what Bush called “local despotism” Mr. Poroshenko’s recent imposition of martial law will facilitate forcible seizures of churches and monasteries held by the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine — a move likely to provoke violent confrontations across the country. In addition, rising neo-Nazi influence has become too visible even for U.S. mainstream media to ignore. However, Congress, the State Department and, sadly, even Christian and Jewish leaders, are doing their best not to see it.
To sum up, there are no realistic expectations for the current situation to improve. The prospect of war is voiced more and more often on both sides of the Atlantic, and this is not what the 41st president envisioned.
One can only hope and pray that the worst will not come to pass.
⦁ Edward Lozansky is founder and president of the American University in Moscow.
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