If Chomsky is right in his analysis of the geopolitics of the U.S. empire of client-states (or check out this article from the New York Times if you want a more mainstream view on this: notice the author is not denying that the U.S. Empire exists and is responsible for a lot of bad things around the world, he is simply arguing that its positive effects somehow outweigh all the negatives), this is how the conflict in Ukraine will turn out: Russia, who is already sending troops into the country, will try to get Yanukovich recognized up until the upcoming elections, and will crank up the military demonstrations and other manipulation devices in order to try to influence the result and get a pro-Russian government elected.
If that fails, Russia will move to dismantle Ukraine, first by declaring Crimea an independent state. That sort of makes sense both strategically, considering the entire Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed there, as well as on self-governance principles as Crimea is comprised mostly of non-ethnic Ukrainians, and historically the region was never associated with Ukraine before Kruschev arbitrarily decided to integrate it into Ukraine in 1954. After that, will Russia also carve a chunk out of Eastern Ukraine into some sort of puppet-state? Or will they carve out the whole Eastern half and attach it to Crimea as the Republic of Eastern Ukraine? Both are possibilities as long as Putin claims the right to intervene militarily in whichever part of the country is necessary to preserve the rights and interests of Russian citizens. And both options have been openly discussed by Putin before.
The point is, the West is not going to intervene militarily no matter what Russia will decide to do. Sure, there will be the standard threats and warnings, and maybe we’ll impose sanctions on Russia and even in the last extreme kick them out of international institutions like the World Trade Organization or, why not, even the UN itself. But that means nothing. Remember the powerlessness of the League of Nations throughout the 1930s as its numerous denunciations of various illegal attacks on autonomous states had no effects on the aggressor. The worst the League could do was to threaten to expel countries and impose meaningless sanctions. Looking back, we can’t say that the punishment dished out by the League had any deterrent effect on future aggression, to the contrary, it just showed the powerlessness of the League in the face of aggressive nations, which encouraged Germany and Japan to be even more aggressive.
In the current Ukrainian crisis, similarly, the West will not intervene militarily. Firstly, because in the current configuration of the U.S. empire of client-states, we never fight against an enemy who can match us. During the Cold War, we never fought against Russia or China head on. Instead we waged a war on North Vietnam and another one against North Korea, countries at a huge disadvantage against U.S. forces. We couldn’t even win those wars though, so the military leaders learned their lesson and since the 1970s we don’t even wage war against anybody who could fight back.
We were willing to intervene in Grenada in 1983, a country of 91,000 people defended by around 2,000 soldiers, or in Panama in 1989 where we already had a military presence there since the beginning of the century that was far superior to the local military forces. We were willing to bomb Serbia in 1999 because, hey, what can they do to us? Bomb U.S. bases in nearby Italy? Of course not, at that point NATO would wipe out their entire country, so Serbia was basically defenseless against U.S. aggression. Or Iraq in both invasions? In 1990 the war was pretty much over the minute U.S. troops landed in Kuwait. The Iraqi forces were defeated in a matter of days. And yet, Bush Senior was so terrified of Sadam’s army (and he had good reasons to be: we were the ones who sold him weapons and provided training to his officers) that he refused to march on Baghdad and depose the dictator.
But we were not willing to intervene in Iran in 1979 when the Shah, our loyal ally, was brought down. Iran had been a huge part of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle-East: it was considered one of our two Guardians in the Middle-East, the other one being Israel, so losing the country to a deeply anti-American fundamentalist theological elite was a devastating blow to U.S. interests. Yet we didn’t dare to send troops in. In recent years, especially under Bush Junior, we singled out Iran as one of our main enemies, yet a military invasion has never been seriously considered.
Iran is simply too big, too advanced and has a military that is just too strong to simply brush aside like the Iraqi army. During the Balkan wars in the 1990s, US troops were never on the ground while fighting was going on. They only came after, as part of the peace/stabilizing mission. The U.S. would never risk sending its troops against a well-prepared, well-equipped modern army like the Bosnian Serbs. Or remember Hungary in 1956 or the Prague Spring of 1968: these people were revolting against the Communist system that we were fighting against, they were fighting to have the right to essentially become U.S. client-states, and yet we did not dare to protect them in the face of heavy Russian military intervention.
Secondly, remember what happened with Georgia in 2008. All of the European states and the U.S. “supported” Georgia morally, but didn’t lift a finger to help it fight off the Russians. And since then, the Russians, with complete impunity, have imposed their candidate into power and firmly reattached the country to the Russian block, and away from the West.
And Ukraine is much closer to Putin’s heart than Georgia is. Losing Ukraine from his orbit would be a tragedy for him both economically (loss of a market of 46 million people) and politically (loss of face for losing a client-country historically and culturally inter-linked with Russia for hundreds of years). He will do anything in his power to maintain Ukraine in Russia’s orbit, and the West won’t lift a finger to prevent him.
And this is why, at the end of the day, Russia will have its way in Ukraine. The only element of surprise remains the Ukrainian population. Will it mobilize along ethnic lines and start organizing militias in anticipation of a Yugoslavia-type descent into civil war? Or will it unite in supporting the integrity of the country in the face of foreign aggression? At the end of the day, it will be the regular people who will have to defend Ukraine from Russia, with no military support from the West.