The Ukraine And The U.S. Penchant For Surrogate Armies

ukraine us

American Troops

One of the major features of the evolution of U.S. foreign policy has been its growing penchant for the use of surrogate armies to engage in America’s battles across the globe. After the extended conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan which cost so many lives U.S. policymakers have expanded their support for engaging, supplying, training and advising foreign armies to do the ‘foot-soldier’ work for the U.S. military.

The U.S. has moved towards the use of Special Forces for the tasks it feels are crucial but has left the other elements of military endeavour to foreign armies which it ‘guides’ and armours. This is combined with the wholesale expansion of high-tech military equipment, like ‘robot soldiers’, which has created a new generation of military equipment which requires no humans to be exposed to dangerous zones of conflict. This started with the rapid expansion of drones and has led to advances in satellite-based weaponry, long-distance rockets and missiles, rail-guns, EMP, robot-manned tanks and artillery and air and sea equipment which project strength at a distance.

The U.S. will engage with its enemies by funding and supplying the Kurds in Iraq; by bombing at a safe height in Syria and arming the ‘democratic Syrian opposition, and by training and equipping the Ukrainian national army to fight its insurgents and their Russian co-insurgents.

This creation of surrogate armies has reached its apex in Africa through AFRICOM. It has been extended to the U.S. engagement with ISIS in Iraq and Syria and now the conflict in the Ukraine is following the same track of ‘no boots on the ground’. The U.S. will engage with its enemies by funding and supplying the Kurds in Iraq; by bombing at a safe height in Syria and arming the ‘democratic Syrian opposition, and by training and equipping the Ukrainian national army to fight its insurgents and their Russian co-insurgents.

This has had several political as well as military consequences for the U.S. The rock on which the post-World War II U.S. strategy was based was the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Soviets, and later in the form of the Russian Federation, posed a strategic threat to the U.S. It had a formidable military machine equipped with a large number of nuclear weapons capable of mutually assured destruction (MAD). The notion of nuclear deterrence, with or without a first-strike possibility, was the basis of the interaction between them.

However, circumstances changed with the passing of the USSR. In 1990, when the two Germanys agreed to reunite, the Germans, Americans, British and French agreed with the Russians that there would be no deployment of non-German NATO forces on the territory of the former GDR. That was certainly the point of Secretary James Baker’s discussions with Gorbachev and his foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze. The agreement on not deploying foreign troops on the territory of the former GDR was incorporated in Article 5 of the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, which was signed on September 12, 1990 by the foreign ministers of the two Germanys, the United States, Soviet Union, Britain and France.

Later, in 1992, the USSR broke apart into the Russian Federation and a host of former territories once part of the USSR. These formerly allied states of the USSR were granted or asserted their autonomy and became independent states. Some joined NATO. The former Warsaw Pact nations were no longer in the thrall of Moscow and went their own way. It was only the Ukraine which was a problem.

In April 1991 Gorbachev had prepared a treaty recognising the breakup of the USSR into autonomous republics but was prevented from signing the treaty by the attempted coup against him in August of that year. On August 24, 1991 the coup had failed and Kravchuk, the head of the Ukrainian parliament, passed a motion declaring the independence of the Ukraine with him as its first leader. A referendum in December 1991 voted Kravchuk in as the first President of an independent Ukraine.

The U.S.’s primary concern was strategic; the control of the Ukrainian nuclear weapons.

It was at that point when the U.S. became deeply involved in Ukrainian politics. The U.S.’s primary concern was strategic; the control of the Ukrainian nuclear weapons. At that time the Ukraine was the third largest nuclear power in the world. The U.S. demanded that the Ukraine immediately remove its nuclear weapons to Russia where they would be destroyed; and they demanded that the Ukraine immediately sign the SALT 1 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In 1994 Ukraine’s denuclearization was resolved with three important international treaties. First, on January 14, 1994, Yeltsin, Clinton, and Kravchuk signed the Trilateral Accord in Moscow, in which Ukraine committed itself to “the elimination of all nuclear weapons, including strategic offensive arms, located in its territory.” The accord contained several paragraphs of American-Russian security guarantees. The United States and Russia stated that they would reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the CSCE [Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe Final Act], to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of the CSCE member states and recognise that border changes can be made only by peaceful and consensual means; and reaffirmed their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, and that none of their weapons will ever be used in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.[i]

In a private letter to Clinton, Kravchuk promised that Ukraine would he nuclear free by June 1996.  The three parties met again in Budapest with the U.K. on the 5th of December 1994 and signed the NPT; the Budapest Memorandum.

According to this Budapest memorandum, Russia, the U.S., and the UK confirmed, in recognition of Ukraine becoming party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and in effect abandoning its nuclear arsenal to Russia that they would:

  1. Respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty and the existing borders.
  2. Refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine.
  3. Refrain from using economic pressure on Ukraine in order to influence its politics.
  4. Seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine, “if Ukraine should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used”.
  5. Refrain from the use of nuclear arms against Ukraine.
  6. Consult with one another if questions arise regarding these commitments[ii]


The next area of concern was the division of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. It has always been a key military concern of the Russian State (from the czars onward) to have access to a warm-water port for its navy. Unfortunately for the Russians the independence of the Ukrainian state left its key warm-water ports (Sevastopol, Odessa, and Nikolayev) entirely under Ukrainian control. The Russians were keen on maintaining its Black Sea Fleet in the Black Sea and operating the large Soviet naval fleet stationed there.

NATO, essentially a euphemism for the Pentagon, played an important role in advising the Ukrainians on its Black Sea Fleet issues.

The Ukrainians entered into discussions with the Russians on the division of the fleet of warships in the Black Sea ports and the leasing of ports to the Russian Navy. This change in the status of the Soviet Navy was conducted within the framework of the Treaty On Conventional Armed Forces In Europe (CFE) which was being negotiated between NATO and the Warsaw Pact organisations. NATO, essentially a euphemism for the Pentagon, played an important role in advising the Ukrainians on its Black Sea Fleet issues. It also generated the creation of the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) which, then and now, plays an important role in the relationship between NATO, the Ukraine and Russia.

Russia ultimately received four-fifths of the Black Sea Fleet’s warships, while Ukraine received about half of the facilities.

In June 1993, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed an agreement that essentially split the fleet in half, beginning in September 1993 and reaching completion in 1996. No sooner had this agreement been announced than it fell apart. Russian naval officers objected to any transfer, and Ukrainian military leaders objected to any loss of territory from the naval bases slated for transfer. The Black Sea Fleet agreement was renegotiated in September 1993 and again in April 1994. After nearly five years of controversy, on 28 May 1997 Moscow and Kiev finally settled their dispute over the Black Sea Fleet, when Prime Ministers Chernomyrdin and Lazarenko signed three intergovernmental agreements. The two sides agreed to divide the fleet’s assets and to lease port facilities in Sevastopol to the Russian Navy. Under the agreement the two nations split the fleet’s ships evenly, though Russia agreed to buy back some of the more modern ships with cash. Thus Russia ultimately received four-fifths of the Black Sea Fleet’s warships, while Ukraine received about half of the facilities.

In January 2009 these threats were made real when the Russians reduced exports of gas to Europe by 60%… The dispute was framed as a commercial dispute over prices and payments but there were far more strategic concerns involved – the Black Sea Fleet.

The two leaders agreed that Russia would rent three harbours for warships and two airfields for a twenty-year period, for a payment of about $100 million annually. Sevastopol, which had been partly under Russian control, was given to Ukraine. [iii]

A crisis developed in August 2008 when several Russian Black Sea Fleet warships dropped anchor off the Georgian coast during and after the August 2008 armed conflict with Georgia over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Ukraine, which sided with Georgia and NATO during the conflict, repeatedly said that Russian Black Sea combat ships frequently transported undeclared cargo to the Georgian enclaves and refused to submit customs declarations while crossing Ukrainian territorial waters. The U.S. intervened diplomatically with the Ukrainians to support them in their pressure on the Russians in the Crimea not to use their ships to intervene in the Georgia war. As a result, the then Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko announced that Ukraine would not extend the lease of the Sevastopol base beyond 2017, and urged the Russian fleet to start preparations for a withdrawal.

The war in Georgia, which was supported by the West, and the threat by the Ukrainians that they would lose their warm-water naval bases in Crimea provoked the Russians to retaliate against both the Ukrainians and the European Union. The Russians threatened to cut off supplies of natural gas to the Ukraine and Western Europe. In January 2009 these threats were made real when the Russians reduced exports of gas to Europe by 60%.The Europeans pressed for some sort of a compromise. The dispute was framed as a commercial dispute over prices and payments but there were far more strategic concerns involved – the Black Sea Fleet. While the U.S. supported the Ukrainians in their defiance of the Russian threats the Europeans pressed for some sort of a compromise which would let the gas flow to their countries.

The Ukrainians were caught in the middle The Europeans were desperate for the Ukrainians to do whatever it took to assuage the Russian gas threat while the U.S. and its NATO allies pressed the Ukrainians to follow through on ending the Russian leases which allowed them a presence in the Black Sea. Despite the arguments brought forth in favour of each of these policies a realistic assessment of the situation was made that there was no substitute at that time for Russian gas so a compromise would have to be reached with the Russians.

After much discussion a compromise was reached and the Ukrainian and Russian parliaments, on 27 April 2010, ratified a deal to extend the lease on the Russian naval bases in the Ukraine for 25 years after the then current lease expired in 2017. In return, Ukraine received a 30% discount on Russian natural gas. The Europeans got their gas restored. The Europeans then began an accelerated process to bring the government of the Ukraine under its wing which could prevent further confrontations on the transport of gas. Although the Ukraine was not very interested at that time in joining NATO, it was interested in establishing a relationship within the aegis of the European Union. During her periods in office Tymoshenko met with the European Union under the terms of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) which aimed to create a ring of friendly states allied, but not members, of the European Union. She became the voice of the Europeans in the Ukrainian leadership.

The U.S. policy was far more confrontational. The ‘neocons’ who dominated U.S. foreign policy towards the Ukraine were loath to lose the opportunity of denying the Russians the use of naval bases in the Black Sea; especially after the Georgian War. While vaguely sympathetic to the Europeans, their main enemy was seen as Russia, and any diminution of Russian power and influence was their man concern. Their main supporters in the Ukraine, Yuschenko and Timoshenko had just lost control of the Ukraine in the national election of a new President, Victor Yanukovych who had taken office on the 25th of February 2010. Victor Yanukovych was the President from the Donbas region (mainly Russian-speaking) which the Yuschenko and Timoshenko governments had largely ignored or opposed.  That meant that the ratification of the treaty extending Russian occupation of the naval bases was being considered by the Rada (Parliament) under a political majority controlled by Victor Yanukovych and his Party of the Regions.

The ratification process of the treaty in the Rada took place amid violent protests by the opposition, which called the deal an “act of treason.” The former Ukrainian President, Viktor Yushchenko, criticised the new government for “trading sovereignty for gas.” “What happened in the Supreme Rada is a military usurpation; I am convinced that this is not the end,” he said at a media briefing. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called on citizens to rise against the current leadership.[iv] However, despite protests, the Rada ratified the treaty on 27th of April, 2010.

The European Union continued to encourage the Ukraine to move closer to accession. However, the first thing the Europeans wanted was to control Ukrainian energy policy so that they could protect the European-wide price of gas.  In December 2009 the Energy Community Ministerial Council decided on the accession of Moldova and Ukraine.

On December 15, 2010 the Ukraine ratified the Energy Community Treaty and Ukraine became a full Contracting Party of the Energy Community with a legal commitment to adopt EU energy, competition and environmental Directives.

Obligations of Ukraine as a party to EC:

  • To implement certain provisions of European legislation acquis communautaire on issues related to electricity, gas and environment according to the specified schedule
  • To follow the rules for competition and state assistance, envisaged by the Agreement on foundation of European Community
  • To approve the plans of development and implementation, stipulating energy infrastructure and policy in the field of RES, which have to comply with accepted EU standards.[v]

In May 2010, President Victor Yanukovych promised to adopt the legislation necessary for creating a free trade zone between Ukraine and the European Union. Further discussions in the next year led to proposals for even closer bonds between the EU and the Ukraine. They were broken off when Yanukovych arrested and jailed Tymoshenko for corruption. The EU put the accession of the Ukraine on hold until Yanukovych freed Tymoshenko, Although the EU then agreed to accept the accession of Ukraine into the EU, the Rada decided that before they would sign there should be a three-way trade agreement which included Russia to prevent a crisis with gas with the Russians. On 28–29 November they said they were suspending the signature of the agreement with the EU.

A wave of demonstrations and civil unrest began on the night of 21 November 2013 with public protests in Independence Square in Kiev, demanding closer European integration.

This was not only a question of an argument about gas. Yanukovych refused to sign the agreement with the EU because his supporters, primarily in his Eastern heartland, were bitterly opposed to the terms of the accession to the EU as they came with a long list of economic austerity programs which were a part of the agreement. There was a great deal of upset within the Ukraine at the refusal of the government to sign the agreement and there was a repeat of the occupation by protestors of the Maidan Square (now called the Euro-Maidan).

A wave of demonstrations and civil unrest began on the night of 21 November 2013 with public protests in Independence Square in Kiev, demanding closer European integration. These protests expanded and became a movement for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych and his government – a parliamentary coup. There was a great deal of violence by the people in the square; by both the government and the various fascist nationalist parties who made up a substantial part of Yanukovych’s opposition. By 25 January 2014, the protests had been fuelled by the perception of “widespread government corruption”, “abuse of power”, and “violation of human rights in Ukraine”.[vi]

Violence intensified and there were shootings and beatings on all sides. There were about 80 dead and 600 wounded in the clashes at the square. On February 21 after negotiations between the president Yanukovych and representatives of the opposition and with mediation of representatives of the European Union and Russia the Agreement “About settlement of political crisis in Ukraine” was signed. The agreement provided return to the constitution of 2004, that is to a parliamentary presidential government, carrying out early elections of the president until the end of 2014 and formation of “the government of national trust”. The Rada and the international partners agreed.

However, while this seemed generally acceptable as a compromise to the negotiators the protestors and the representatives of the U.S. government insisted on further concessions and the resignation of the President. The economic situation was dire. The Ukraine was running out of money. They turned first to their erstwhile partners in the EU. The Prime Minister asked for 20 billion Euros (US$27 billion) in loans and aid from the EU but the EU was only willing to offer 610 million euros (US$ 838 million) in loans; with harsh conditions on the Ukrainian economy which would have required heavy austerity and changes to the law. On the other hand, Russia offered US$ 15 billion US in loans and cheaper gas prices without the onerous demands for an austerity program.

Later that day, the 21st of February 2014, the President felt that his time was up and that civil war was looming. He fled to Kharkiv and later to Russia, abandoning his post. The Rada met the next day to impeach Yanukovych for being unable to perform his duties. They set a date for new elections and, two days later, issued a warrant for the arrest of the ex-President for the “mass killings of civilians”[vii]

One of the major forces in the ouster of Yanukovych was the neocons in the U.S. administration, especially Victoria Nuland. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs. Victoria Nuland is the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan and the sister-in-law of the Gates-Petraeus adviser Frederick Kagan, advocated strenuously for Ukraine’s reorientation toward Europe. When it became clear that Yanukovych would not sign on to the EU demands, Nuland took over and prepared for ‘regime change’ in the Ukraine. She even handed out cookies by hand to the protestors in the Euro-Maidan. She didn’t mind or object to the banners praising Ukrainian fascists. She decided that the oligarchs were Ukrainian loyalists and could be persuaded to assist but the Russians and their supporters had to go.

By late January 2014 Nuland was discussing with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt who should be allowed to be in the new government. “Yats is the guy,” Nuland said in a phone call to Pyatt that was intercepted and posted online. “He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know.” By “Yats,” Nuland was referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who had served as head of the central bank, foreign minister and economic minister — and who was committed to harsh austerity. He was also the front man for the Timoshenko party.[viii]

The neocons are an interesting group of people and were put into a wide range of U.S. government posts by Dick Cheney, George Bush’s Vice-President. They were, and are, the backbone of ‘Cheneyism” – a political philosophy which advocates a massive increase in defence spending, the assertion of lone superpower status, the prevention of the emergence of any regional competitors, the use of preventive—or pre-emptive—force, and the idea of forsaking multilateralism if it does not suit U.S. interests. It calls for intervening in disputes throughout the globe, even when the disputes are not directly related to U.S. interests, arguing that the United States should “retain the preeminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends, or which could seriously disrupt international relations.”

To protect U.S. territory, citizens, and military forces from attack, to back up security guarantees to allies, and to “preclude any hostile power from dominating a region critical to our interests,” the authors of Cheney’s program argued that the United States had to:

  • Pursue the “military-technological revolution” to preserve its superiority in the latest weapons systems (e.g., smart munitions)
  • Sustain the “forward” presence of U.S. ground, air, and naval forces in strategically important areas, to validate commitments, and to provide a capability to respond to crises affecting significant interests, such as freedom of the seas and access to markets and energy supplies
  • Preserve a smaller but diverse “mix” of survivable nuclear forces to support a global role, validate security guarantees, and deter Russian nuclear forces
  • Field a missile defence system as a shield against accidental missile launches or limited missile strikes by “international outlaws”
  • Maintain a capability to reconstitute military forces in the event a regional hegemony threatens to become a global threat
  • Find ways to integrate the “new democracies” of the former Soviet bloc into the U.S.-led system
  • Work with allies in NATO Europe and elsewhere but be ready to act unilaterally or with only a few other nations when multilateral and cooperative action proves too “sluggish” to protect vital interests.[ix]

In recent years this has broadened to include the notion of surrogate armies to do the actual battles as the neocons are aware of the negative view within the U.S. of active combat by U.S. soldiers as took place in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. will invest billions in state of the art military technology and will create a network of surrogate armies committed to fighting America’s enemies with equipment and training provided by U.S. Special Forces. The U.S. is now providing trainers and some equipment for the Ukrainian army and is getting ready to provide much more. In addition the U.S. is pre-positioning arms around the Ukraine’s periphery and supporting the expansion of a surrogate set of armies within Europe aimed at Russia.

The origin of the neo-cons is very interesting. Their ideology has not emerged from any Far Right tradition. They are, for the most part, followers of a faction of Trotskyites, who split from the Trotskyist movement under the leadership of Max Shachtman. With the University of Chicago philosopher, Leo Strauss, as their intellectual guru, they joined Shachtman in a small radical organisation called the Independent Socialist League. Among the early protégés were two graduates of the City College of New York (CCNY) Irving Howe and Irving Kristol (two parts of the ‘College of Irvings’ when they were joined by Irving Horowitz). Kristol became the godfather of neo-conservatism, a co-founder of the movement along with Norman Podhoretz of “Commentary” magazine. Kristol’s son is the editor-in-chief of the bellwether neocon publication, The Weekly Standard.

When it was revealed in the late 1960’s that some American voluntary organisations were being covertly funded by the CIA to wage the battle of ideas at international fora, the Johnson Administration concluded that such funding should cease, recommending establishment of “a public-private mechanism” to fund overseas activities openly. This took form as National Endowment for Democracy (NED), led by Carl Gershman – a key Shachtmanite. The NED is a strange organisation – the beating heart of the neocons. It is a private foundation funded by the U.S. Congress to “Spread democracy”. It has a Democratic Party half in its National Democratic Institute, and a Republican Party half in its International Republican Institute. Madeleine Albright is in charge of the NED Dems while John McCain leads the NED GOP.

One of the main areas of work has been the Ukraine. The NED, a $100 million-a-year agency lists 65 projects that it supports financially inside Ukraine, including training activists, supporting “journalists” and promoting business groups, effectively creating a full-service structure primed and ready to destabilise a government in the name of promoting “democracy.”

It puzzles many analysts in the U.S. and elsewhere why the neocons continue to have access to policies and programs. The foreign policy of the Obama years has been dominated by the influence of these neocons and the “liberal interventionists” like Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton despite Obama’s democratic pronouncements.. The failures of their policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Ivory Coast and, especially, Libya should serve as a warning to the U.S. voters that they should insist that these neocons be retired. There is no hope of any change under a Republican administration as the Cheneyites are deeply embedded the foreign policy programs of the neocons.

Until such time as the power of the neocons is curtailed the U.S. will be a major force in ‘regime change’ around the world – a change that is seldom an improvement.



[i] U.S. Department of State Dispatch:Trilateral Statement by the President of the United States, Russia and Ukraine in Moscow on January 14,1994
[ii][ii] Memorandum on Security Assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the NPT, UNDOC S/1994/1399
[iii] “Black Sea Fleet”, Global Security 10/4/2010
[iv] Robert Lea, “Europe plunged into energy crisis as Russia cuts off gas supply via Ukraine”, Daily Mail  7/1/2009
[v] ECRB Report, Energy Community Secretariat 2011
[vi] “Yanukovych Offers Opposition Leaders Key Posts”, RFE/RL 25 January 2014
[vii] “A warrant out for Viktor Yanukovych’s arrest, says Interior Minister”, Guardian. 24 February 2014
[viii] Robert Parry, “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis” Consortium” 2/3/14
[ix] Full text in National Security Archive, “The Making of the Cheney Regional Defense Strategy, 1991-1992, 26/2/2008