Like many (if not most) Americans, I never paid much attention to Ukraine until Russia’s recent invasion. With our busy lives, it’s tempting to accept the consensus Western media portrait of Putin as a “pure thug,” a “murderous dictator” and a “war criminal,” all epithets used recently by Joe Biden to describe Putin. In fact, to even suggest that Russia has legitimate existential national interests in Ukraine is to risk being labeled “Putin’s Poodle” or worse. Nevertheless, I continue to be uncomfortable with the easy, almost simplistic demonization of Putin, who sought cooperation with the West before becoming its arch-enemy (according to credible historians like the late Professor Stephen Cohen, International Relations scholar John Mearsheimer and former Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock). Time-consuming and difficult as it may be, we must make an effort to look beneath the dominant media narrative of good and evil, wherein we are purely good and Putin is purely evil. We face a more perilous global nuclear threat today than we did when the Soviets installed missiles in Cuba. More perilous because there is more unbridled zeal among leaders on both sides of this conflict to continue the escalation, rather than to seek a diplomatic solution. What follows below are a few excerpts from articles I find credible and more nuanced than the dominant media narrative. I don’t necessarily agree with every word of these excerpts, but their unconventional arguments are worth considering, and may nudge us slightly in the direction of reality.
Based on my remedial efforts to understand Russia and Ukraine, I’m convinced that (1) Putin’s unconscionable invasion of Ukraine is a war crime, every bit as much as our unjustified invasion of Iraq was a war crime (2) The US war economy needs enemies, and Putin conveniently serves that purpose, making increasing arms sales and bloated military budgets apparently more necessary (3) The expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe has been a “bonanza for the arms industry” (4) The US is more interested in using Ukraine to fight a debilitating proxy-war against Russia than it is in finding a diplomatic solution (5) The US, with that goal in mind, provoked Putin by encouraging the 2014 “coup” in Ukraine and by making Ukraine a de-facto NATO country (6) Putin made the tragic mistake of reacting to that provocation by invading Ukraine (a mistake which nevertheless is more likely to destroy Ukraine than it is to destroy Russia, unless this all becomes an even bigger catastrophe, a global nuclear war). Don
Does Putin Really Want to ‘Destabilize the West’?
(September 6, 2017)
“Just as there is no forensic evidence of a Kremlin “attack on our democracy” in 2016, there is no political logic for Putin’s alleged motives.”
Much of his success, and domestic popularity, as Russia’s leader for 13 years, until the Ukrainian crisis of 2014, was based on an unprecedented expansion of Russia’s economic relations with Europe and, to a lesser extent, with the United States. For example, Russia provided fully one-third of the energy needs of European Union countries and thousands of European producers, from farmers to manufacturers, found vast new markets in Putin’s Russia, as did American car makers and fast-food chains. As late as 2013, the Kremlin was employing a US public-relations firm and recruiting Goldman Sachs to help “brand” Russia as a profitable and safe place for Western investment.
ACURA ViewPoint Jack F. Matlock, Jr.: Today’s Crisis Over Ukraine
(February 14, 2022)
By Jack Matlock (US Ambassador to the Soviet Union, 1987 – 1991)
Adding countries in Eastern Europe to NATO continued during the George W. Bush administration (2001-2009) but that was not the only thing that stimulated Russian objection. At the same time, the United States began withdrawing from the arms control treaties that had tempered, for a time, an irrational and dangerous arms race and were the foundation agreements for ending the Cold War. The most significant was the decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) which had been the cornerstone treaty for the series of agreements that halted for a time the nuclear arms race. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Northern Virginia, President Putin was the first foreign leader to call President Bush and offer support. He was as good as his word by facilitating the attack on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had harbored Osama ben Laden, the Al Qaeda leader who had inspired the attacks. It was clear at that time that Putin aspired to a security partnership with the United States. The jihadist terrorists who were targeting the United States were also targeting Russia. Nevertheless, the U.S. continued its course of ignoring Russian–and also allied–interests by invading Iraq, an act of aggression which was opposed not only by Russia, but also by France and Germany.
As President Putin pulled Russia out of the bankruptcy that took place in the late 1990s, stabilized the economy, paid off Russia’s foreign debts, reduced the activity of organized crime, and even began building a financial nest egg to weather future financial storms, he was subjected to what he perceived as one insult after another to his perception of Russia’s dignity and security. He enumerated them in a speech in Munich in 2007. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates responded that we didn’t need a new Cold War. Quite true, of course, but neither he, nor his superiors, nor his successors seemed to take Putin’s warning seriously. Then Senator Joseph Biden, during his candidacy for the presidential election in 2008, pledged to “stand up to Vladimir Putin!” Huh? What in the world had Putin done to him or to the United States?
Although President Barack Obama initially promised policy changes, in fact his government continued to ignore the most serious Russian concerns and redoubled earlier American efforts to detach former Soviet republics from Russian influence and, indeed, to encourage “regime change” in Russia itself. American actions in Syria and Ukraine were seen by the Russian president, and most Russians, as indirect attacks on them.
Perry Anderson on foreign policy: America’s problem is it’s a global hegemon without global ideology legitimacy
“I believe, on the other hand, that the Cold War was a true war and that the United States won it as decisively as the Pacific War. The victory wasn’t military as such, though military pressure—an arms race that crippled growth in the USSR and with which, in the end, it couldn’t keep up—was decisive in winning it. The victory was economic, political and ideological, and it was as complete as if the U.S. had conquered and occupied its adversary.”
“From Clinton onward, the underlying American attitude to Russia was that since these people have been defeated and are grateful to us for having defeated them, we are going to tell them what to do, and if they don’t like it—some of the actions we take may go against the grain—they will have to swallow it. Victoria Nuland, then an aide to Clinton’s henchman, Strobe Talbott, and today a Obama’s assistant secretary for European affairs, could not have been more explicit. After telling Yeltsin’s foreign minister that he should sign onto an impending American operation in Bosnia, she remarked to Talbott—as if the Russians were recalcitrant children—“They have to eat their spinach.”
“Obama is no different. He could publicly tell reporters, “Putin reminds me of a sulky teenager in the back of the classroom.” Not an American eyebrow was raised, yet imagine if Putin had said something comparable about Obama: The sky would have fallen in. The casual condescension and contempt is palpable. This was the attitude that lay behind the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders. The elder Bush promised Gorbachev that NATO would not be extended into Eastern Europe? Who cares? It wasn’t written down, we’ll go ahead. Within a month of its expansion into Hungary comes the NATO attack on Yugoslavia. This from a supposedly defensive treaty organization.”
This is how the world ends
(March 17, 2022)
The production of fake war videos became a big industry among American and British propaganda organs during the Syrian War, when Western audiences were shown utterly fraudulent films of alleged chemical attacks by the Assad regime. Many featured the supposedly heroic and selfless work of ‘white helmet’ humanitarian volunteers operating in the Syrian war zones. Now these talents and experience are being unleashed to whip up popular outrage over the conduct of the Russian campaign in Ukraine.
This morning’s Russian state television featured an expose of the latest fake news exploits being served up to world media by the Kiev regime. A half dozen such videos and photographic montages were analyzed by Russian experts who tracked down the original footage and on split screen show how what the Ukrainians are claiming to be Russian attacks on the civilian population in Kiev are, for example, footage taken from the SS-21 (Tochka-U) missile blast in downtown Donetsk city this past Monday which killed 21 people outright and injured critically 30 more. That attack was launched by the Ukrainian army from a distance of perhaps 30 miles. Other videos showing alleged destruction of civil buildings are taken from cities, mostly in the Donbas, several years ago, where the aggressor was Ukrainian militias, not Russians or their Donbas allies today.
Of course, none of the Russian proofs of fraud perpetrated by Ukrainian propagandists with the help and guidance of their American curators will be shown on Western media. However, we the people can for ourselves determine who is telling the truth and who is lying just by putting on our thinking caps when we look at what is shown on the BBC News, for example.
I think in particular of an evening news BBC front line reporter in Kiev who stood before a heavily damaged 15 story residential building a couple of days ago in which all windows were blown out by some explosion. The lady journalist was well coiffed and dressed immaculately in what can only be described as a surreal setting. Pointing to the building, she told us indignantly that four people had been killed in this latest Russian attack. Here, unnoticed evidently by her producers back in London, there is the kind of discrepancy between what we are shown and what we are being told that should set off alarm bells in anyone who has his head screwed on properly. The building itself and the kind of destruction we saw on our television screens should have yielded 400 fatalities, not 4 if this were anything but bogus information. Instead, what the BBC was presenting aligns perfectly with the Russian narrative that in Mariupol, in Kharkiv, in Kiev and other Russian cities the Ukrainian army and militias of irregular radical nationalists fighting by its side are using the civilian population as ‘human shields.’ What this means is that residential buildings and civilian infrastructure are taken over by the army, who chase out the civilians and move artillery and other weaponry into the buildings from which they attack Russian troops and attempt to attract counter fire into genuinely civilian homes for the sake of atrocities to publicize on the internet.
Note: we do not have any body counts relating to the destruction of that theater in Mariupol. During the course of last evening, the BBC report shifted imperceptibly from claims that hundreds were sheltering there during the attack to claims that hundreds had been sheltering there in recent weeks. Meanwhile the Russians flatly denied that they were responsible for the destruction of the theater and laid the blame entirely at the Ukrainian army and its special propaganda mission.
Given the near total jamming by Europe, by the USA of Russia-based internet resources, the Russian counter charges do not reach the eyes or ears of Western audiences. My own access to this information is chiefly coming from satellite channels that are not yet prohibited in Western Europe.
Is There A Path To Peace In Ukraine?
(March 7, 2022)
Prolonging the violence in Ukraine risks unleashing wider and more destructive regional and global forces.
Unfortunately, like President Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War, President Biden is probably disinclined to support a ceasefire, which would open him up to merciless attack from senators from both parties. LBJ talked himself into a box from which he could not escape and it appears that Biden has done the same.
Biden’s strident hate speech toward President Vladimir Putin and the Russian state makes it difficult, if not impossible, to support any ceasefire that leaves Russia in control of anything in Ukraine. The same holds true for an eventual settlement that, as a minimum, recognizes Russia’s controlling national security interest in Eastern Ukraine. As a result, Washington cannot serve as an arbiter in good faith to support its European allies’ pursuit of a solution.
Today, the most that observers of the conflict in Ukraine can say with certainty is that on the tactical level Russian performance has been uneven. This is not surprising for any army that is largely unbloodied. In 1939, this condition was true of the German army in Poland, and in 1991 it was true of U.S. forces during Desert Storm.
However, the unevenness in Russian military performance has no discernible impact on the operational level of war, where Russian forces continue to pursue, encircle, isolate and destroy Ukrainian ground forces. The end of this tragedy is not in doubt. Ukrainian forces in Eastern Ukraine will be annihilated or captured.
Meanwhile, the Washington elite remains committed to any course of action that promises to prolong the conflict and kill more Ukrainians. No one inside the Biden Administration or in the Senate seems remotely interested in crafting a ceasefire, let alone developing the basis for a potential solution that will save lives and halt the destruction.
Arsenal of Democracy or Simply an Arsenal?
(March 15, 2022)
Russia’s ill-planned and immoral invasion of Ukraine marks the definitive end of that possibility, however small it might have been. Putin’s actions, whatever their motivation and justification, are being seized upon by the military-industrial-congressional complex as proof positive that Pentagon budgets, already in the stratosphere, must soar higher yet. For so many of the Putin-haters (and I’m no fan), his destructive actions supposedly demonstrate why the U.S. must be prepared to double down in kind.
That, of course, means yet more weapons production and sales globally for the country that’s already the planet’s leading purveyor of such products. It also means more bellicose rhetoric, and ultimately more militarism, because that’s all Putin and his authoritarian ilk will allegedly ever understand (as is sadly true of so many in Washington as well). Consider all this a peculiar form of American madness, akin to the idea that a guy with a gun, or better yet, lots of guys with lots of guns, the more powerful the better, are the sanest way to prevent gun violence.
The 2014 revolution in Ukraine was an enormously complicated affair. Yet for most Western observers, many of its basic, well-documented facts have been either excised to push a simplistic, black-and-white narrative, or cast as misinformation and propaganda, like the crucial role of the far right in the revolution. In truth, the Maidan Revolution [of 2014] remains a messy event that isn’t easy to categorize but is far from what Western audiences have been led to believe. It’s a story of liberal, pro-Western protesters, driven by legitimate grievances but largely drawn from only one-half of a polarized country, entering a temporary marriage of convenience with the far right to carry out an insurrection against a corrupt, authoritarian president. The tragedy is that it served largely to empower literal neo-Nazis while enacting only the goals of the Western powers that opportunistically lent their support — among which was the geopolitical equivalent of a predatory payday loan.It’s a story tragically common in post–Cold War Europe, of a country maimed and torn apart when its political and social divisions were used and wrenched further apart in the tussle of great power rivalry. And the Western failure to understand it has led us to a point where Washington continues to recklessly involve itself in a place full of shadowy motives, shifting allegiances, and where little is what it seems on the surface.Western involvement helped bring the country to this crisis. There’s little reason to think it’ll now get it out.