Andrew Bacevich / The Boston Globe
(February 27, 2022) — For the media and for members of the public more generally, the eruption of war creates an urgent need to affix blame and identify villains. Rendering such judgments helps make sense of an otherwise inexplicable event. It offers assurance that the moral universe remains intact, with a bright line separating good and evil.
That rule certainly applies to the case of the invasion of Ukraine. Russia is the aggressor and President Vladimir Putin a bad guy straight out of central casting: On that point, opinion in the United States and Europe is nearly unanimous. Even in a secular age, we know whose side God is on.
Yet such snap judgments rarely stand the test of history. With the passage of time, moral clarity gives way to ambiguity. Clear-cut narratives take on hitherto unrecognized complexity. Bright lines blur.
World War I illustrates the point. The conflict began with the German Army invading France. When the war finally ended, the victorious Allies charged Germany with “war guilt,” a judgment that accomplished little apart from setting the stage for an even more disastrous conflict two decades later. It turned out that in 1914 there had been plenty of guilt to go around. Among the several nations that participated in that war, none could claim innocence.
A similar rush to judgment regarding Ukraine will inevitably inhibit our understanding of the war’s origins and implications, with potentially dangerous consequences. Yes, Russian aggression deserves widespread condemnation. Yet the United States cannot absolve itself of responsibility for this catastrophe. Indeed, the conflict renders a judgment on post-Cold War US policy. That policy has now culminated in a massive diplomatic failure.
The conflict renders a judgment on post-Cold War US policy.
That policy has now culminated in a massive diplomatic failure.
Since the 2014 US-backed coup, Washington has trained fighters to attack Ukraine’s seperatists.
The failure stemmed from two defects that permeate contemporary American statecraft. The first involves hypocrisy and the second a penchant for overreaching.
Condemnations of Putin emphasize his disregard for what US officials like to call a “rules-based international order.” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine violates ostensibly sacrosanct “norms” that prohibit military aggression and demand respect for national sovereignty.
This is rather rich coming from the United States, to put it mildly. During the post-9/11 war on terror, successive administrations made their own rules and established their own norms — for example, embarking on preventive war in defiance of international opinion. If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a crime — as I believe it to be ― then how should we classify the US invasion of Iraq in 2003?
Putin appears intent on using violence to impose “regime change” in Kyiv, installing his own preferred leadership there. Biden administration officials express outrage at that prospect, and rightly so. Yet coercive regime change undertaken in total disregard of international law has been central to the American playbook in recent decades. Whatever Washington’s professed intentions, democracy, liberal values, and human rights have not prospered, whether in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya.
Perhaps we should not be surprised at such inconsistencies. After all, hypocrisy is endemic to politics, both domestic and international. More troubling is the difficulty US policy makers apparently have in accurately gauging US interests and comparing them with the interests of others. This is where the overreaching occurs.
Consider this simple definition of thephrase “vital interest”: a place or issue worth fighting for. Putin has repeatedly identified Ukraine as a vital Russian interest, and not without reason.
President Biden has been equally clear in indicating that he does not consider Ukraine worth fighting for. That is, it does not qualify as a vital US interest. At the same time, he has refused to concede the legitimacy of Russia’s claim. In concrete terms, he has rejected Putin’s demand that NATO’s eastward march, adding to its ranks various former Soviet republics and allies, should cease without incorporating Ukraine, which Russia deems an essential buffer.
The argument made by several recent US administrations that NATO expansion does not pose a threat to Russian security doesn’t pass the sniff test. It assumes that US attitudes toward Russia are benign. They are not and haven’t been for decades. It assumes further that Moscow has no interests except as permitted by the United States. No responsible government will allow an adversary to determine its hierarchy of interests.
By casually meddling in Ukrainian politics in recent years, the United States has effectively incited Russia to undertake its reckless invasion. Putin richly deserves the opprobrium currently being heaped on him. But US policy has been both careless and irresponsible.
As is so often the case, this is an unnecessary war. But the United States is no more an innocent party than the European countries that in 1914 stumbled into war.
Andrew Bacevich is president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
How the US Instigated the Ukraine Crisis
Rick Sterling / AntiWar.com
(February 25, 2022) — Introduction
Russia has sent troops into Ukraine and attacked Ukrainian military forces. In a one-hour address, President Putin said the goal was the “de-Nazification” of Ukraine.
It is now clear the Russian statements and proposed peace treaty in December 2021 were deadly serious. At that time, the Russians said the US and NATO were crossing red lines, they felt threatened and would not abide this endlessly. Now they have taken action.
In his address yesterday, Russian President Putin gave a frank explanation, which comes after years of complaints. The Russians have complained bitterly about the US-promoted 2014 coup in Ukraine, the eastward expansion of NATO, the installation of missiles in Romania and Poland, the pretense that the missiles were for defense against Iran, the 2019 US withdrawal from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement, the aggression against Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east.
President Putin compared the situation to WW2 where the Soviet Union was invaded and lost 27 million citizens to Nazi Germany. He vowed to not repeat the mistake of endlessly trying to appease the aggressor.
Comparison to the Cuba Crisis
This conflict is unnecessary. It could have been avoided by simple agreement to not include Ukraine in NATO and to withdraw missile systems from Romania and Poland. Unless NATO is planning war with Russia, those agreements are eminently sensible.
In 1962 the United States drew a red line saying the Soviet Union could not install missiles in Cuba. They threatened world war to make this stand. The distance from Havana Cuba to Washington DC is over 1,100 miles. In contrast, the distance from Kiev, Ukraine to Moscow in Russia is under 500 miles. Is it not clear why the Russians feel threatened?
Essential Background and Facts
What You’re Not Being Told
Following are factors to consider in evaluating who is to blame for the current crisis and bloodshed. When we hear analysis of the situation, which entirely ignores the following facts, it is a sure sign of distortion and bias.
Fact 1. In February 2014, a coup overthrew the Ukrainian government which came to power in an election certified by the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation). The president, Viktor Yanukovich, was forced to flee for his life.
This situation was presciently analyzed at the time by Seumas Milne who wrote, “The attempt to lever Kiev into the western camp by ousting an elected leader made conflict certain. It could be a threat to us all.”
Fact 2. The coup was promoted by United States officials. Neo-conservatives such as Victoria Nuland and John McCain actively supported the protests. As confirmed in a secretly recorded phone call, Nuland determined the post-coup composition weeks in advance.
Later, Nuland bragged they spent $5 billion in this campaign over two decades. Before the coup was “midwifed,” Nuland forcefully rejected a likely European compromise agreement that would have led to a compromise government. “F*** the EU!,” she said. Nuland managed the coup but Vice President Biden was overall in charge.
As Nuland says in the phone call, Biden would give the ultimate “atta boy” to the coup leaders. Subsequently, Joe Biden’s son personally benefited from the coup. Victoria Nuland has even more power now as the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Secret US forces such as the Central Intelligence Agency must also be involved.
Fact 3. The coup government immediately acted with hostility toward its Russian-speaking citizens. Approximately 30% of Ukrainian citizens have Russian as their first language, yet on its first day in power, the coup regime acted to make Russian no longer an official state language. This was followed by more actions of hostility.
As documented in the video “Crimes of the Euromaidan Nazis,” a convoy of buses going back to Crimea was attacked. In Odessa, over thirty opponents of the coup government died when they were attacked and the trade union hall set afire.
The Crimes of Euromaidan Nazis:
The Pogrom of Korsun on February 20, 2014
Fact 4. During World War 2, there were some Nazi sympathizers in western Ukraine when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. This element continues today in the form of Svoboda and other far right nationalist parties. The Ukrainian government has even passed legislation heroizing Nazi collaborators while removing statues honoring anti-Nazi patriots. The situation was described three years ago in an article “Neo-nazis and the far right are on the march in Ukraine.” The author questioned why the US is supporting this. Under President Poroshenko (2014 to 2019) nationalism surged and even the Orthodox Church split apart.
Fact 5. The secession of Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk are a direct result of the 2014 coup. In Crimea, a referendum vote was rapidly organized. With 83% turnout and 97% voting in favor, Crimeans decided to secede from Ukraine and re-unify with Russia. Crimea was part of Russia since 1783. When the administration of Crimea was transferred to the Ukraine in 1954. They were all part of the Soviet Union. This was done without consulting the population.
Author’s note: I visited Crimea in 2017 and talked with diverse people including the popularly elected city council officials. There is no doubt about the overwhelming support for re-unification with Russia.
In the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk on the border with Russia, the majority of the population speaks Russian and had no hostility to Russia. The Kiev coup regime was hostile and enacting policies they vehemently disagreed with. In spring 2014, the Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples Republics declared their independence from the Kiev regime.
Fact 6. The Minsk Agreements of 2014 and 2015 were signed by Ukraine, Ukrainian rebels, Russia and other European authorities. They were designed to stop the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine and retain the territorial integrity of Ukraine while granting a measure of autonomy to Luhansk and Donetsk. This is not abnormal; there are 17 autonomous zones in Europe.
These agreements were later rebuffed by the Kiev government and Washington. Ukrainian militias have escalated their attacks in the Donbass region. The US and other NATO countries have been pouring weapons into Ukraine. Russell Bentley, a US citizen who now lives in Donetsk just miles from the front-lines, provides a compelling description of the situation.
After eight years trying to implement the Minsk Agreements, the Russian government gave up and recognized the Peoples Republics of Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR) on 21 February 2022.
The US and NATO have little credibility to oppose secession since they promoted the breakup of Yugoslavia, secession of Kosovo from Serbia, secession of South Sudan from Sudan, and Kurdish secessionist efforts in Iraq and Syria, etc. The secession of Crimea is justified by its unique history and overwhelming popular support. The secession of Luhansk and Donetsk may be justified by the illegal 2014 Kiev coup.
US intervention, both open and secret, has been a major driver of the events in Ukraine. The US has instigated the conflict. Ukrainians and Russians are now paying the price.
Let us hope that the violence ends quickly and a genuinely independent Ukraine, no longer a tool of the United States, emerges.
Rick Sterling is a journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.