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What If There's a Real War in Ukraine?

Russia and the West are at war – over fruits, veggies, pork and bank loans. The cause is Ukraine, a vast emptiness formerly unknown to the western world, but now deemed a vital national security interest worthy of a risking a very scary war.

Economic embargos such as those launched by the US against Russia may seem relatively harmless. They are not. Trade sanctions are a form of strategic warfare that is sometimes followed by bullets and shells.

Think, for good example, of the 1940 US embargo against Japan that led Tokyo’s fateful decision to go to war rather than face slow, economic strangulation. How many Americans know that President Roosevelt closed the Panama Canal to Japanese shipping to enforce demands that Tokyo get out of Manchuria and China?

Frighteningly, today, there are senior officials in Washington and Moscow who are actually considering a head on clash in Ukraine between Russian forces and NATO – which is an extension of US military power.

Intensifying attacks by Ukrainian government forces (quietly armed and financed by the US) against pro-Russian separatists and civilian targets in eastern Ukraine are increasing the danger that Moscow may intervene militarily to protect Ukraine’s ethnic Russian minority.

A full-scale military clash could begin with a Russian-declared ‘no fly’ zone over the eastern Ukraine such as the US imposed over Iraq. Moscow’s aim would be to stop the bombing and shelling of Ukrainian rebel cities by Kiev’s air force.

Russia’s leader, President Vladimir Putin, is under growing popular pressure to stop the killing of pro-Russian Ukrainians – who were Russian citizens until 1991.

The US just launched air strikes against northern Iraq, ostensibly to protect Yazidis, a small religious cult based on Zoroastrianism which many Iraqis call devil worshipers. Though these strikes were clearly aimed at bolstering US-backed Kurds against the advancing Islamic State forces, Washington called them a humanitarian attack to protect Iraqi Christians and Yazidis – perfectly in keeping with the administration’s claim to be waging humanitarian warfare.

NATO could quickly deploy its potent air power against Russian aircraft. US and NATO aircraft flying from new bases in Romania, Bulgaria and Poland could seriously challenge the Russian Air Force over the Russia-Ukraine border region. More US warplanes would be rushed into Eastern Europe. Russian air defenses are strong and its air bases are close to the sphere of action. Still, NATO air power has a technological superiority over the Russian Air Force and better trained pilots.

On the ground, Russia has a slight advantage. It has 16,000-18,000 troops on the Ukraine border made up of mechanized infantry, armor, mobile air defense and artillery. A competent but small force, and hardly a menace to Europe, as the pro-war media howl. Compare this small number of troops to the Soviet 1st Ukrainian Front alone in 1944, made up of six armies and thousands of tanks and heavy guns.

Russia could fight border skirmishes but certainly not retake Ukraine with this paltry force. Russia’s once 200-division army which boasted some 50,000 tanks is today a shadow of its past: 205,000 active soldiers and 80,000 indifferent reservists spread over the world’s larges nation. Russia, as always, has excellent heavy artillery and good tanks, but nothing compared to WWII when Soviet 152mm guns and rocket batteries were lined up wheel-to-wheel for kilometers.

Any attempt by NATO to capture Crimea would likely be defeated by Russian air, naval and land force. The constricted, shallow Black Sea could prove a death trap for US warships. Sevastopol (with Leningrad and Stalingrad) were named a Hero City of the Soviet Union for its heroic defense in WWII

Ukraine’s cobbled together army, about 64,000 men, suffers from poor training, logistical problems, and weak leadership. During Soviet days, it numbered over 700,000 with the cutting edge of Russian weapons. Today, the army is stiffened by foreign mercenaries and far-rightists from Kiev. Even so, it could not stand up to Russia’s better-armed, better-equipped troops.

What about NATO? In 1970, the US Army had about 710,000 soldiers in Europe, mostly based in Germany. Today, US has only 27,500 German-based troops left, largely non-combat support units. At best, the US could probably assemble two weak combat brigades – about 5,500 men total – to rush to Ukraine. The rest of US forces are based in Afghanistan, Kuwait, the Gulf, South Korea and Japan, or at stateside. Moving them to Europe would take about six months.

But the US still retains large airbases in Germany that could support military intervention in Ukraine. Lately, small US and NATO contingents have been quietly inserted into East Europe and the Baltic region – large enough to spark a war, but too small to win one.

Since the end of the Cold War, the US armed forces, NATO, and Russia’s military have been sharply reduced by budget cuts. Until the Ukraine crisis, there was almost no prospect of war in Europe. Ardor for war among Europeans and Russians is very low.

Britain, now a toothless old lion, would support the US in Ukraine with a few men and warplanes; so would France, Denmark, Poland, Canada and Holland, but to a limited or even token degree. Germany and Turkey, NATO’s two heavy hitters, want to avoid any conflict with Russia and might well stand aside. They both do very large business with Russia and are unhappy about the manufactured Ukraine crisis.

So any military clash in Ukraine would initially be limited in scope and intensity. But a confrontation could quickly escalate into a dangerous crisis. The Cold War taught that nuclear –armed powers must never fight directly, only through proxies.

Nothing is worth the risk of nuclear war, even a limited one.

Let the Ukrainians sort out their differences by referendum.

On the 100th anniversary of World War I, we again see our leaders playing with matches.


(Reprinted from EricMargolis.com by permission of author or representative)
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  1. Don Nash
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    Had the US stayed the hell out of Ukraine and not played stupid with coup d’état, yeah and thanks for that Vichy Nuland, this would all be mostly nothing. The bottom line is that the Ukraine owes the Russians a mountain of cash for any number of commodities with gas being at the top of that debt ridden list. The whiny Kiev oligarchs do NOT want to have to pony up for what they owe to Russia.
    The US is not about to cover for Kiev’s debts to Russia. The US is busy covering Israeli genocide on Gaza. Rather than prod the Kiev oligarchs to make good on what they owe, the Obama regime would risk World War nuclear 3. That seems really insane.

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  2. “NATO air power has a technological superiority over the Russian Air Force and better trained pilots”

    Maybe a not very accurate assumption. Putin has put the Russian military through an intensive modernization/upgrade over this past decade, example given, Russian special operations units are now considered to be equal to any in the world. And the Black Sea, at 2,000+ meters depth, is not precisely shallow. But yeah, Russian air power likely would be devastating to a foreign navy in that body of water’s confined space… so don’t look for that to happen.

    I doubt the USA/NATO provocation of Russia in Ukraine is about a larger war in the near term, as much as it is a justification for NATO to push Europe into a divorce with Russia and into arming up towards any future confrontation…

    Meanwhile, it can’t hurt to look at how it is the armaments industry has become so intertwined with the western democracies economic engines, there could be economic collapse if the armaments production were to ever be severely curtailed (the elephant in the living room no one will talk about) .. so in a perverse sense, what is happening makes sense (if not sanity)

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2014/05/26/counterfeit-coin/

    ^ Not the brightest mindset in the age of nukes-

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  3. conatus
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    The United States spends 36% of what the world spends on military expenditures. Is Russia a threat on the world stage? They spend 5% of what the world spends. Who is the bully on the world stage, the US who is seven times greater in military expenditures or big bad Russia who spends 5%?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures

    Besides that, we lied to the Russians over German reunification. We, the slippery Janus-faced Capitalists, well versed in double meanings, misrepresented ourselves at the end of the cold war, saying we would not expand NATO if the Russians agreed to German reunification. How is that working out?

    From a 2009 NYT article, by Mary Elise Sarotte, Enlarging Nato, Expanding Confusion, discussing the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that Gorbachev understood as meaning no NATO expansion, applying to his agreeing to German reunification.

    NYT says “Did the United States betray Russia at the dawn of the post-cold war era? The short answer is no. Nothing legally binding emerged from the negotiations over German unification. In fact, in September 1990, an embattled Mr. Gorbachev signed the accords that allowed NATO to extend itself over the former East Germany in exchange for financial assistance from Bonn to Moscow. A longer answer, however, shows that there were mixed messages and diplomatic ambiguities.

    By acknowledging that there might be some substance to Russian grievances, the Obama administration would strengthen our relations with Moscow. Given that NATO enlargement has already taken place and efforts for further expansion are stalled, little would be lost with such an acknowledgment but much could be gained.” Unquote

    Yeah let’s go to war but let old men like O’Reilly and the rest of the brave patriots carry the guns and maybe that will shut them up.

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  4. reiner Tor
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    The modernization program had a hard time keeping up with the accelerating decay of old Soviet equipment. The Turkish + Polish air forces combined are probably stronger than what Russia has on its western borders. (Of courses, they are not strong enough to go on attacking into Russian and adjacent airspace protected by Russian anti-aircraft forces, but over most of Ukraine they would have the upper hand.)

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  5. Director
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    Polish + Turkish Airforce.

    And there is the rub. The West appears ready to unleash Johnny Turk on Ivan. The Ukraine was always a cover for Islam.

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  6. rand bogus
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    Considering this terrible economy that is about to get much worse getting nuked in my jammies at night might not be a bad way to go. I’d rather be vaporized than go through another depression.

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  7. Sarastro
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    The idea that military confrontation between Russia and US/NATO can be managed so as to preclude nuclear war is fatuous in the extreme. Two out of three such incidents (Cuba and the 1983 High Alert) both came within seconds of nuclear exchanges. Only luck saved the world. In a tense military situation there’s a high premium on “use it or lose it” situations, along with accidental or lunatic action and miscalculation. The world is in the worst shape since WWII. Our leaders seem to have a death wish and will drag the rest of is in nuclear fire with them.

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  8. bob sykes
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    The relative strengths and abilities of US/NATO’s conventional forces vis a vis Russia’s is not relevant. Russia’s publicly stated policy is that if defeat in a conventional war seems likely they will go nuclear.

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  9. Ronald:

    I completely agree with your own analysis as I too have been following Russia’s transition to a much improved military. In addition, Russia is getting ready to provide operational 5th generation aircraft to its Air Force, while US’ F-35 and F-22 previously are too mired in politics and continuous breakdowns to be of any use to the US Air Force.

    Russia has also been upgrading its missile defenses with the introduction of the S-500 system, which is just about ready to go online.

    A clash between NATO forces and Russian forces would be quite devastating to the US since its own forces have not been able to succeed in even evicting lightly armed guerrilla groups from both Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas.

    American soldiers have also been given poorer training than in the past, which recently has concentrated on urban guerrilla fighting skills somewhat ignoring the more critical skills of general soldiering and actual field combat, which a class with Russia would entail.

    The US Navy is also having its share of issues with the poor performance of its new littoral combat ships.

    Combine this with the infestation of politics into military senior echelons and it is doubtful that US forces would be strategically commanded very well under such circumstances.

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  10. @ Steve N.

    You’re correct concerning the upcoming Russian air combat weapons systems, and they’ve also stayed on top of upgrades with the SU 27 platform in the interim period:

    http://www.businessinsider.com/russian-su-35-is-the-pinnacle-2013-7?op=1

    ^ This is not an air combat platform to be taken lightly.

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  11. Popsiq
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    Backing down seems to be the hard part for both sides. If that’s a given, then both sides need to be far more careful about extending themselves into an untenable position.

    Acting as a dangerous catalyst here is the Kyiv government. They are out of control.

    Reply
  12. What If There’s a Real War in Ukraine? – The Unz Review « The Progressive Mind
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    […] • 11 Comments […]

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  13. Eric Margolis: What If There’s a Real War in Ukraine? « Truth Is Rising
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    […] Eric Margolis: What If There’s a Real War in Ukraine? […]

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  14. Eric Margolis: What If There’s a Real War in Ukraine? » RickMick
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    […] Source: http://www.unz.com/emargolis/what-if-theres-a-real-war-in-ukraine/ […]

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  15. Mile B
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    The West, led by the United States (in turn manipulated by a powerful elite cabal) is determined to stage a major war. In 2008, the RAND corporation presented a report to the Pentagon advocating such an adventure as a way to fix the U.S. economy. Of course, fixing the economy is only a part of it – the cover story. The real agenda goes much farther. But the whole war dynamic takes root in the monetary system and the resulting imperative that our economies must always grow. More here: http://thejubilee.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/causes-of-wests-war-making/

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  16. Royce Royal
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    Seems everyone forgot what happened when the US/NATO/ISRAELI trained, equipped, funded, supported, Georgians tangled with Russia. It took the Russians about five days to emasculate the Georgian military with the use of third level military equipment. Russia, by tradition, never initially throws into battle their best weapons, saving the best for worst case scenarios. If a serious conflict with NATO occurs, guaranteed that the Iskander hyper sonic missile will eliminate all NATO bases in a matter of minutes. As far as the metro sexual troops gathered from the EU, their presence will be farcical against the Russians. Hitler stated that he only had to kick in Russia’s rotten barn door and the whole country would come crashing down. Remember the outcome?
    The reality of real war with Russia is sobering for intelligent people. If the velvet gloves come off, the iron fist will crush the west’s opposition. Shooting women, children, and retreating convoys from thirty thousand feet has been the west’s preoccupation for the last fifty years, with no ground to air opposition. Welcome to the new world. Russia can reach out and touch the West, if pushed.

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  17. NATO is a facist organation, but i blamed the isreal for all this, isreal is the murder here, they killed so many BABIES, and women, and older people they should not exist no more. WIPE OUT ISRAEL PLEASE, thank you

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  18. Neutral
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    There can never be a war because it would end with nuclear weapons being used.

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  19. Anonymous
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    Since when did the Ukraine become a part of NATO? I must have missed that one? Since when did the USA have a defense treaty alliance with Ukraine? I must have missed that one? Wouldn’t war between Russia and the Ukraine be between them only like with Georgia in 2008?

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  20. Royce Royal
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    Neutral: US dropped two A-bombs on defenseless Japanese.
    They could have scared them by dropping the bombs off the coast of Japan to send a message. But the sadists didn’t want to fry fish.
    The Russians saw through the unmitigated treachery so they armed themselves to the teeth. Naturally, that one sided game can’t be played anymore, the 2%ers who have robed the world blind don’t want their mansions, yachts, and resorts, let alone families, melted by those nasty Russians and Chinese. No No, we can’t have that, it would be so barbaric! Sorry, new paradigm sucks, old saying: what goes around, comes around. Karma can be a bitch. Trouble is a nuke exchange could happen by accident, came close several times and don’t forget the Cuban crisis.

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  21. Steve
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    This is a complicated situation. Whilst Russia should not be overly provoked, neither should Ukraine be left on its own in the face of the Russian project of rebuilding its empire. Not only the west Ukrainians, but a substantial portion of the rest do not want to fall back under Moscow’s sway, and prefer to move towards Europe and all it stands for (at least in theory). Most of all the large majority can be assumed to want peace and stability, and the efforts of some on both sides to deny this to them are to be deplored. A referendum is fine in theory, but when both sides are destabilizing things to such an extent it’s scarcely possible. The best and only practical solution is for a settlement involving some autonomy for the Russian-language majority oblasts, with solid guarantees from Russia in return to respect Ukrainian sovereignty, though Crimea is now a serious sticking point. This would suit Putin too, as if he takes the eastern areas outright, he will lose real influence over the rest of Ukraine permanently, as well as be branded a serious aggressor henceforth. This of course may be what some prefer, but it would mean the possibly permanent loss of Donetsk/Luhansk at least plus Crimea to Ukraine. Perhaps that is what it will take to stabilize things locally, but of course will have wider repercussions. An outright NATO-Russia clash is practically unthinkable.

    Not easy however you cut it – thank Stalin and Khrushchev for that, apart from the current leaders and ideologues.

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  22. US has a Zionist PNAC ‘neocon agenda’ in Ukraine vs Russia
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    […] http://www.unz.com/emargolis/what-if-theres-a-real-war-in-ukraine/ […]

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  23. What If There’s a Real War in Ukraine (by Eric Margolis)?
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    […] http://www.unz.com/emargolis/what-if-theres-a-real-war-in-ukraine/ […]

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  24. HA
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    Besides that, we lied to the Russians over German reunification. We, the slippery Janus-faced Capitalists, well versed in double meanings, misrepresented ourselves at the end of the cold war, saying we would not expand NATO if the Russians agreed to German reunification.

    Did we, really? Where is this magic mystery agreement that I keep hearing about? Who signed it? Who negotiated it? Is there any evidence for it — names, dates, maybe an actual copy somewhere?

    Does any rational person with a grip on how bureaucracies work really believe that NATO is the kind of organization that some faceless bureaucrats somewhere can just get together and agree to stop its expansion in perpetuity without some specific memorandum or document to show for it (like say, SALT, which was documented with truckloads of paper)? You might believe that, but were actual Soviet diplomats ever that naive? If so, I think there’ll be proof somewhere.

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  25. JoeBlow
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    While I can agree that we shouldn’t have a dog in the fight in Ukraine and that risking full war with Russia is imbecilic, how can you equate this to the situation with Japan? The verified accounts of atrocities being committed by the Japanese in China and elsewhere make ISIS look like a bunch of humanitarians. Read up on the rape of Nanking. The idea that we would continue to facilitate that war machine through sales of oil and raw materials and/or use of our shipping lanes (we did own the Panama Canal then) is pretty immoral.

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  26. Hello Obama
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    My God! You are ridiculous! All the while you are trying to calculate tanks, planes, ships. You calculate the iron, but never take into account the Russian person and his soul!
    Wilhelm counted their resources .. Napoleon counted … Hitler counted …
    Where are they now? What happened to them? Now Obama counts …
    Russian with real Ukrainians are now very well shown in the Donbas as it is necessary to destroy the Nazis !!! Nazis, which is funded by the Anglo-Saxons! I want to ask! The Anglo-Saxons, why you do not want to live in the world? Why do not you give to other people to live in peace? What do you miss?
    We have a great Russian proverb – Who will come to us with the good – will get good! Who will come to us with a sword – from the sword shall perish!
    Your Nazis in Ukraine already buried in the ground!!!
    Obama – a simple village idiot! Pathetic creature and bastard!!
    And Putin – Man! Putin – a Warrior! Peaceful Warrior!
    But if you come to us with the war … Read better what happened to Hitler, if you do not know the history.
    The Anglo-Saxons, we do not want war! But you really do not recommend to come to us with the war! You will eat our land in the full program!

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  27. Sam Haysom
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    Stalin jeered how many divisions does the Pope have. Where is Stalin, where is his jackbooted empire? Where was the Russian soul when a beaten, humiliated Soviet Union collapsed. Perhaps it was busy.

    Wilhelm utterly and completely destroyed the Russians. Russian soul has nothing on Hiddenburg. Likewise it had nothing on Ronald Reagan calling evil.

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  28. historicus
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    The war with Japan was deliberately provoked. There is no other explanation for
    American diplomatic policy in the months and years leading up to Pearl Harbor. The U.S.
    decision in 1940 to move an attack fleet of formidable battleships from its home bases in
    California to Hawaii, three thousand miles closer to the Japanese home islands, is not
    hard to see as an existential threat to Japanese survival. The U.S. government repeatedly
    refused to negotiate with the moderate elements within the Japanese government,
    preferring to exacerbate the militarists with unmistakable insults. On April 9, 1941 Japan
    offered a draft proposal containing sweeping concessions to U.S. demands, including the
    removal of all Japanese forces from China on terms agreeable to both nations, with no
    acquisition by Japan of any Chinese territory or indemnifications, all to be overseen by
    the United States. Cordell Hull rejected these generous terms out of hand, refusing even
    the smallest quid pro quo between the two nations. Instead FDR reacted to Japanese
    peace overtures by declaring an embargo on Japan’s critical oil supply, which, following
    on the heels of severe trade sanctions and the freezing of all Japanese assets in the U.S.,
    was a de facto declaration of war.

    It is remarkable that it did not occur to America’s war planners that a Far East under
    Soviet influence would be no less detrimental to U.S. interests than one dominated by
    Imperial Japan. At Yalta, Stalin demanded and got Manchuria, China’s most modernized
    region, which he transformed into a beachhead to launch the Chinese communist
    revolution.

    Most of what we think we know about “the Good War” is the uncorrected propaganda of
    the British, American, and Soviet governments. The same thing happened in World War
    I, but there was an extensive revisionist movement in the 1920s that demolished the
    official fables about how and why the war was waged, and today on the hundredth
    anniversary of that needless conflagration we recognize those lies for what they are. But
    the repressive atmosphere of the Cold War that followed the Second World War put a
    stop to similar much-needed correctives after just a handful of revisionist books was
    published in the late 1940s, and so the falsehoods live on unchallenged.

    The mythic construct of purely “good” nations selflessly battling totally “evil” ones to
    “save” innocents was spectacularly successful when employed against the Axis. It has
    been used ever since by an out-of-control militaristic U.S. government to manufacture our
    consent to all the wars of ggression and conquest that it has waged overtly or covertly
    non-stop since 1940.

    Reply
  29. Years ago at the height of the cold war I was involved in an exercise simulating a Soviet advance into Europe.
    The Scenario was to hold them for 5 days and either sue for peace, or up the anti and go nuclear.
    Also Alexander Haig, who was the NATO Supreme Commander (1974–79) commenting in the 80′s.
    “The first and second world wars started and were mainly fought in Europe, If you dummies let us so will the third one.”
    The US corporations do not like competition. They see the EU and Russia as competition so wish to reduce the competition. Hence the possible conflict over the Ukraine.
    But one must not forget, once the cold war between major westernised nations becomes hot and nukes start to fly the 1%’s will have no one left to exploit.
    Plus the main fear is if the Russians fear a first strike by the US using NATO in Europe. They may just decide to strike first. Hit hard and decisively, better to die as a free nation then a US puppet state.
    Unfortunately mayor wars are usually started by mistakes, by one or both sides.

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  30. chesten
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    On what grounds is based your assumption about Poles and Turks? Russia will not wait to see the outcome of a conventional battle. If USA or simply NATO makes a move on the ground or in the air, be sure that the nukes will be merciful for all of us.

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  31. Ozymandias
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    “NATO – which is an extension of US military power.”

    “Germany and Turkey, NATO’s two heavy hitters, want to avoid any conflict with Russia and might well stand aside.”

    Odd how NATO’s autonomy evolved so rapidly during the course of this article.

    Reply
  32. Good evening to every good person! I hope my comment will put in hearts of foreign people some new and sensible idea that everything that happens in the eastern Ukraine is the responsibility of Ukrainian government. In my opinion Donetsk and Lugansk should be part of Ukraine! But after such big and one-side propaganda which caused the hatred in the souls of millions Ukrainians against citizens of DNR and LNR it will hardly happen.. How could Mr Poroshenko to call his citizens terrorists without any logical and real proof that every person in Donetsk walks on the streets with gun and kills his families and friends! Second how he could send his people to kill others HIS PEOPLE just because they made another choice(they maybe went astray.. But do parents kill their children if they are mistaken??) Is it possible that no-one thinks logically and asks what for rebels to kill their own families, to destroy houses? Rebels shoot in Ukrainian army because they came to their territory!! and fight with DNR and LNR! People of eastern Ukraine just defense their cities and try to push far away Ukrainian army, which shelling them! if Mr Poroshenko is really leader of this beautiful country he will try to make a deal with rebels, asks people to forgive him for colliding two parts of his country, for killing young boys of Ukrainian army just because he thinks, that Russian troops were masked in Eastern Ukraine and he sent them to kill Russians which are living in Donetsk?? but if it would be truth, why should poor innocent citizens to die?? because Ukrainian army shelling without looking… Just give me answers to 3 questions maybe than I will understand that I mistake.. Why refugees run to Russia if “Russian troops kill them at home”? What for Russia send the Humanitarian aid if it wants to „ kill the citizens” of this region? and why there any real interview of Ukrainian journalist in DNRor LNR exist, why only Russian and foreign journalists are there?? Are Ukrainian journalist afraid to see and hear truth?? I hope that you post my comment and people who don’t look any true news will think about innocence of eastern Ukrainian citizens and some good, strong persons, officials force Mr Poroshenko to make up peace with rebels and stop sending army to kill HIS OWN CITIZENS! Or people choose another REAL father of their land who takes care about every person, even not Ukrainian!!! I apologize for mistakes) I am from Crimea and hope that prosperity, peace and respect to each other will be in every country.

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