No area of public policy is so shrouded in secrecy, obfuscation and outright deception than foreign policy. Most of the time it doesn’t seem to matter much to the majority of voters who have more pressing things to worry about. But when Canadians read a headline that says “Russia mobilizing for war” one would hope they would take notice. A more absurd declaration is hard to imagine but there it was — coming out of the offices of CSIS, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. It was just the latest alarmist rhetoric in a steady stream of anti-Russian propaganda that coincided with the largest NATO military exercise — dubbed Anaconda — since the end of the Cold War.

As with almost every aspect of foreign policy, context is everything and this particular gem only begins to make sense if you go back to a February 1990 meeting between Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the U.S. Secretary of State, James Baker. That meeting saw a deal concluded (regrettably only with a handshake) whereby Gorbachev agreed to dismantle the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact (the NATO equivalent), in exchange for Baker’s promise that NATO would not expand “one inch to the east.”

Legacy of broken promises

NATO has steadily expanded since that time, absorbing many former Soviet republics — including Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Romania. It is scarcely surprising that Russia would perceive this expansion as a gross violation of trust in the West and a potential military threat given that the only reason for NATO’s existence was as a bulwark against Soviet communism. By that mandate, NATO should have been disbanded in 1990. 

The one important country remaining on NATO’s wish list is Ukraine, which shares a 1,400-mile border with Russia. It is here that Russia drew the line. When the U.S.-sponsored coup (aided by explicitly neo-Nazi collaborators) deposed the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, the NATO writing was on the wall for Vladimir Putin. The illegal seizure of Crimea and the militarization of eastern Ukraine followed.

Given events since then it is likely that this was exactly what the U.S. wanted: it needs a Russian “threat” to justify the continued existence of NATO. The U.S., which totally dominates NATO, has used the annexation of Crimea to promote the notion of Russian “aggression” towards its former Warsaw Pact allies. Yet despite the rhetoric, there is no evidence to suggest that Russia is suddenly going to invade Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia or Poland and then bear the huge burden of occupying them.

Nonetheless, eastern European NATO members have dutifully jumped on the Russian “aggression” bandwagon. Poland is key in this dangerous charade, with its president, Andrzej Duda, recently visiting Ottawa and asking Prime Minister Trudeau for military support. According to the CBC, Duda said: “[i]t is ‘beyond any doubt’ that Russia has an ‘expansionist, imperial policy,’ and he would like to see Canada increase its military personnel and equipment in Poland.” 

It’s not just compliant eastern European governments that are promoting this madness. American think-tank Rand Corporation helpfully suggests “[t]he Baltic states — Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania — could conceivably be overrun within 60 hours unless the West was willing to station several, heavily armoured brigades in the tiny nations.” Well, yes, and the U.S. could overrun Southern Ontario in 24 hours. But will they? Jane’s Defence Weekly, a supposedly objective journal on global military developments recently featured the headline: “Canadian frigate encountered ‘heavy Russian presence’ in Black Sea.” Really? Russians in the Black Sea! The Black Sea has essentially been a Russian lake for centuries and that status is even enshrined in a 1936 treaty limiting the presence of foreign naval ships.

A quick reality check on which country — the U.S. or Russia — is expansionist and imperialist seems appropriate. It is the U.S. that has military bases in over 80 countries —  and military personnel in 80 more. The U.S. accounts for 95 per cent of all foreign bases in the world and has a quarter of a million troops stationed outside the U.S. Russia has eight foreign bases, all in former Soviet republics with which it shares borders. And it is the U.S. which is establishing an anti-ballistic missile system in Romania, severely destabilizing the nuclear strategic balance that has prevented a nuclear holocaust for over 60 years. The U.S. is also moderninizing its nuclear weapons to make their use more likely. The B61-12 is a mini-bomb, and according to author John Pilger, “General James Cartwright, a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said, ‘Going smaller [makes using this nuclear]weapon more thinkable.'”

NATO prepares for attack

That’s the context for recent developments. Earlier this month in Poland, NATO launched its largest “exercise” since the end of the Cold War. Dubbed “Operation Anaconda” it lasted 10 days and involved over 30,000 troops (including 200 Canadians), 3,000 vehicles, 105 aircraft and 12 ships. There was nothing ambiguous about the purpose of this massive military demonstration. The president of Poland declared: “The goal of the exercise is clear. We are preparing for an attack.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said nothing to contradict him. 

Now the U.S. and NATO are suddenly seeking full Canadian membership in the madness. NATO (read: the U.S.) is requesting that we join the U.S., Britain and Germany and commit up to 1,000 troops to a new, 4,000-troop contingent that would be permanently stationed in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland. Though the number is small, this permanent NATO presence in countries bordering Russia is arguably even more provocative than the recent military exercise.

Prime Minister Trudeau faces an exceptionally difficult choice between now and the NATO summit on July 8-9. But if he makes the courageous one, and sides with those calling for more dialogue and diplomacy (which is, after all, Trudeau’s stated objective with Russia) he will in the long run be on the side of the angels. Stoking Russian nationalism at a time when many Western and eastern European countries are witnessing the rise of right-wing nationalist sentiment themselves is a recipe for disaster.

Trudeau does seem to have one ally, but an unusual one — German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Calling for more “dialogue and co-operation” with Russia, Steinmeier stated: “What we shouldn’t do now is inflame the situation further through sabre-rattling and war-mongering.”

Let’s all hope Trudeau takes his advice.

Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble’s State of the Nation column.

Photo: Corporal Andy Reddy RLC/7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command/flickr

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Murray Dobbin

Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. A past board member with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, he has written five studies for the centre...