1991: When America Tried to Keep Ukraine In the USSR

In the last days of the Soviet Union, the Washington establishment was convinced nationalism was a greater threat than Soviet despotism

The US government today likes to make-believe that it is the perennial champion of political independence designed for countries that were once at the rear of the Iron Curtain.

What is often forgotten, however , is that in the days following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Washington opposed independence for Soviet republics like Ukraine and the Baltic states.

In fact , the Bush administration openly supported Mikhail Gorbachev’s efforts to hold the Soviet Union together rather than permit the USSR to decentralize directly into smaller states. The US regime and its supporters in the press took the position that nationalism— not Soviet despotism— was the   real   problem for the people of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

Indeed, in the case of Ukraine, President George H. W. Bush even traveled to Kyiv in 1990 to lecture the particular Ukrainians about the dangers associated with seeking independence from Moscow, while decrying the supposed nationalist threat.

Today, nationalism is still a popular bogeyman among Washington institution mouthpieces. These outlets routinely opine on the dangers of  French nationalism ,   Hungarian nationalism , and  Ruskies nationalism . One frequently sees the term nationalism used in ways designed to make the term distasteful, as in “ white-colored nationalism. ”

When nationalism is hassle-free for NATO and its Western freeloaders, on the other hand, we are informed that nationalism is a power for good. Thus, the US routine and mainstream media generally pretend that Ukrainian nationalism— and even Ukrainian white nationalism— either don’t exit or even are  to be praised.

In 1991, however , the US had not yet made a decision that it paid to positively promote nationalism— so long as this is  anti-Russian   nationalism. Thus, in those days, we find the US regime siding with Moscow in efforts in order to stifle or discourage local nationalist efforts to break with all the old Soviet state. The way in which it played out  is definitely an interesting case study in both Rose bush administration bumbling and in the US’s foreign policy that existed before the advent of unipolar American liberal hegemony.  

The Anti-Nationalist Context

In the late 1980s, it was currently apparent that the Soviet Union was beginning to lose the grip on many areas of the enormous polity that was the USSR. Restive nationalists within the Soviet Union had been beginning to assert local control. For example , by 1989, ethnic Armenians and Azeris already are embroiled in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh that continues to this very day. Deadly ethnic violence flare leg, but Moscow, in its weakened state, put off taking actions. Yet, in January 1990, Moscow did act in what is know, in Azerbaijan today as “ Black January. ” Soviet storage containers rolled into the Caspian Sea port city of Baku plus killed as many as 150 Azeris— many of them civilians: “ The ostensible aim of the treatment was to stop Azeri massacres of Armenians, but the actual goal was to prevent the Azerbaijani Popular Front from taking power. ” 1   The most popular Front was the chief political arm of anti-Moscow nationalism in Azerbaijan, and  its leader stated   ” The objective is to drive out the army, liquidate the [Moscow-controlled] Azerbaijani Communist Party, establish a democratic parliament. ”

Yet instead of Washington pundits educating Americans to announce “ I stand with Azerbaijan, ” we were told the  real  risk was nationalism. As Doyle McManus  wrote at  The Los Angeles Times   in 1990: “ An ancient specter is haunting Europe: untamed nationalism … From Baku to Berlin, as the Soviet Bloc has disintegrated, ethnic conflicts that once appeared part of the past have instantly returned to life. “ These old nationalistic impulses, 1 official from the State Section averred, are “ dangerous ghosts” from Europe’s past. Arch-establishment foreign policy consultant Zbigniew Brzezinki was available to claim that ethnic tensions could lead to “ geopolitical anarchy. ” Bush administration authorities were “ worried” that smaller national groups might replace the Soviet Partnership. At the time, it was not uncommon to hear that nationalism in Europe would bring about a situation just like that which supposedly caused Globe War I. As one “ senior Bush advisor” said, “ It’s 1914 once again. ”

Therefore , when the Soviet tanks came along to crush a potential coup that might free some Soviet subjects from Moscow’s yoke, the feeling in Washington had been one of relief rather than lament at Moscow’s aggression. Washington was clinging to the concept that the answer to nationalism was to ensure the continued exist of— as Murray Rothbard  put it — ” a single, overriding government company with a monopoly force to settle disputes by coercion. ” That agency  was the USSR.  

The united states Against  Independence for Ukraine and the Baltics

That was in early 1990. Simply by late 1990, on the other hand, it was increasingly apparent that the Soviet state was in deep difficulty and events were spiraling beyond the control of possibly Moscow or Washington. The problem in the Baltics was especially acute. On March thirty, 1990, Lithuania declared independence and seceded from the Soviet Union. The Soviet state responded with a blockade. Latvia and Estonia began moving toward independence as well, although these two countries would not formally secede until late August 1991.

Yet, even in early August 1991, Washington under George L. W. Bush was  still   enthusiastic about the nationalist “ risk. ” In early 1990, the Soviets had claimed that will Baltic independence was “ a threat to European stability, ” and this placement,   according to  The Los Angeles Situations , “ offers won considerable sympathy inside the Bush Administration and in Western European capitals. ”  

This choice for Moscow-coerced unity and “ order”   over nationalist decentralization was once again on full display on August 1, 1991. This was when George Bush delivered his notorious “ Poultry Kiev” speech. In this tackle to the Supreme Soviet from the Ukrainian USSR, Bush harangued the Ukrainians on the have to reject nationalism, stating

Yet freedom is not the same as independence. Us citizens will not support those who look for independence in order to replace the far-off tyranny with a nearby despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.

In other words, the particular nationalist bogeyman was invoked to hold the Soviet Partnership together. Bush’s finger wagging at the secessionists  was  received well by “ moderate” pro-Moscow communists. But it had been less well received by Ukrainian nationalists— to put this mildly— and Baltic secessionists  were horrified as well . But few had been waiting for approval from the Americans. Less than six months later all of the Baltics had seceded in the USSR, and a Ukrainian referendum on independence passed very easily. (Lackluster support for secession continued in the Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. )

In providing this speech, Bush had been essentially acting as Gorbachev’s message boy, and Bush clearly supported Gorbachev’s “ All-Union Treaty ” which was supposed to create a new enlightened version from the Soviet Union that would substitute the old USSR.

Yet if the Soviet Partnership was going to hold together, it was going to require the participation of the Ukrainians. That didn’t happen, and  Foreign Affairs   concluded   in 1992 “ it was Ukraine, led by President Leonid Kravchuk, that ultimately triggered the unraveling of the Soviet empire: Ukraine’s refusal in order to sign Mikhail Gorbachev’s union treaty precipitated the collapse of the U. S. Ersus. R. ”

Through most of it, the US had repeatedly warned contrary to the dangers of secession and the threat of nationalism. Instead, the party line within Washington appeared to be that the previous Soviet Union could be converted into a new large condition where democracy would maintain the Lithuanians, the Ukrainians, the particular Azeris, the Armenians, and countless others in line. After all, from the point of view of Washington, the end of large state is not a rebirth of freedom, but an break out of “ chaos” and “ instability. ” Therefore, Moscow was treated as being a far greater friend of Washington that secessionists in Kiev or Riga.

The panic over nationalism in the former USSR failed to persist, however. Washington’s degeneration on all this came when Washington realized it could lengthen its “ unipolar moment” by expanding NATO— in spite of  the guarantee to not extend NATO eastward . But once this became clear that nationalism could be harnessed to serve the ends of NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY ORGANIZATION expansionists, then nationalism became a feature of “ sovereignty” and the “ rules-based purchase. ” But as we’ve seen with the badmouthing of  Polish   and Hungarian efforts to control their borders or assert independence from Brussels, nationalism is intolerable whenever this inconveniences the European Commission rate or the White House.

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