The Provocations Behind the ‘Unprovoked’ War
Phil Wilayto / Richmond Times-Dispatch
MECHANICSVILLE, VA (July 23, 2022) — Back in 1949, the United States, Canada and 10 Western European countries formed a military alliance called the North Atlantic Treaty organization, or NATO. Washington had decided that the Soviet Union, its wartime ally — the one that had broken the back of the Nazi war machine — now was its peacetime enemy.
By 1990, the Soviet Union and most of its socialist allies were collapsing, the result of internal contradictions and outside pressures. The US was promoting the reunification of Germany — a move opposed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who still remembered how his country had lost 20 million people to the Nazi invasion, and was not real excited about the prospect of a revitalized Germany.
So US Secretary of State James Baker offered a deal: If Gorbachev agreed to a united Germany, NATO — which, by that time, had grown from its original 12 members to 16 — would promise not to advance one inch eastward. Gorbachev agreed.
Today, each of the 14 new NATO member countries has been to the east. Of the seven countries bordering Russia’s western flank, Estonia, Latvia and Norway already are NATO members. Finland, Georgia and Ukraine have asked to join.
Once that process is completed, Russia’s only western border ally would be Belarus. Every other bordering country would be committed by Article 5 of the NATO Charter to come to each other’s defense in the event of a military confrontation.
And this should worry Russia, why?
In 1999, NATO carried out a 78-day air campaign in Yugoslavia that involved 400 aircraft, 5,000 personnel and the use of cancer-causing depleted uranium munitions.
From 2003 to 2014, NATO led the Western military effort in the US war in Afghanistan, a disaster for both the US and the Afghans.
After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 — the one based on the lie about weapons of mass destruction — NATO trained, mentored and assisted the US-dominated Iraqi Security Forces. That mission continues to this day.
In 2011, NATO led a massive bombing campaign against Libya — once the most prosperous country in all of Africa — reducing it to a failed state and a haven for extremists who since have expanded their operations throughout most of West Africa.
For the sake of argument, let’s leave aside the question of whether any of these NATO wars were justified. Instead, let’s look at the relative balance of forces between Russia, the US and NATO.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia’s military expenditure in 2021 was $65.9 billion. The US’ was $801 billion — more than 12 times that of Russia.
For NATO, combined military expenditures of all 30 member countries in 2021 was an estimated $1.2 trillion — more than 18 times that of Russia.
And even though Russia and NATO have rough parity when it comes to nuclear weapons, it’s just possible that the steady eastward expansion of a steadily growing, hostile NATO might have raised some legitimate security concerns in Russia.
Then, there’s the matter of US support for the anti-Russian Ukrainian coup of 2014. This began as peaceful protests against then-President Viktor Yanukovych for his opposition to closer economic ties with Western Europe. It morphed into a violent uprising in which openly neo-Nazi organizations played a major role.
The US support was not in dispute. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had traveled to give encouraging speeches to the protesters. US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland handed out pastries to the crowds. More importantly, she later openly bragged about how the US had spent $5 billion promoting “pro-democracy” groups in the country.
The coup changed Ukraine in fundamental ways. The new government banned the use of the Russian language for official business, even though 17% of the population was ethnic Russian and some 30% spoke Russian as a first language.
Statues honoring Ukrainian fascists like Stepan Bandera, who had collaborated with the Nazi occuaption, were erected while memorials to Soviet war heroes were taken down. The neo-Nazi organizations were free to roam the streets, attacking anyone opposed to the coup. Those acts of violence included the May 2014 Odessa Massacre, where dozens of people were murdered in the Black Sea port city.
Meanwhile, Ukraine began to operate as a NATO member in everything but name, including carrying out joint military exercises right up to Russia’s border.
None of this is meant to endorse Russia’s war. But since the Biden administration already has given Ukraine $5.3 billion in military aid, it might be a good idea to view the war in a historical context.
And if we do that, “unprovoked” might not be the first word that comes to mind.
Phil Wilayto is editor of The Virginia Defender and coordinator of the Odessa Solidarity Campaign. Contact him at: email@example.com
Alice Slater — It is a breath of fresh air to finally hear the unreported historic events that brought us to this awful pass instead of the constant asserion of Putin’s “unprovoked attack”. This is not an excuse for Russia’s behavior it is just an explanation of how it came to pass, after all the broken promises when Gorbachev miraculously let go of all of Eastern Europe and dissolved the Warsaw pact without a shot asking Reagan to join in eliminating all the nuclear weapons, but backing off when Reagan wouldn’t give up his Star Wars dream to “dominate and control the military use of space” as spelled out in the US ; Command documents at the time. We subsequently walked out of the 1972 ABM Treaty we had with the USSR and put missiles in Romania and Poland; turned down offers from Putin to Clinton to cut our nuclear arsenals of 15,000 in the US and Russia of the 16,000 on the planet at the time and forego the missiles in Romania. Putin also asked Obama to negotiate a treaty to ban cyber warfare. Russia and China tabled a draft treaty to keep weapons out of space in the UN Committe on Disarmament in Geneva where you need consensus to discuss these initiatives and the US votes to block it. We are under what Ray McGovern, (former CIA briefer to Bush and Clinton) calls the MICIMATT–Miltary, Industrial Congressional, Intelligence. Media, Academic, Think Tank complex. There are huge war profits driving this war. Kudos to the Richmond-Times Dispatch for breaking the wall of silence.
Norbert Mayr — Wilayto writes: “None of this is meant to endorse Russia’s war.” Yet he comes pretty close to justifying Russia’s attack and its prolonged shelling of civilian targets. The Ukraine is an independent country and has every right to associate with whatever other country it chooses. We (and the other NATO members) are sovereign countries as well and can affiliate with or befriend other countries without the approval of the Kremlin. Russia can not be allowed to wage war on others simply because it feels threatened, so long as there are no overt attacks on its people and assets. The author seems to forget that it is Putin’s obvious desire to reestablish the old Russian or Soviet empire that is behind his geopolitical moves. That needs to be reined in by any means.
Tracy Peters — “That needs to be reined in by any means” … and “by any means” we must mean … “anything that cannot be construed to be a physical attack on Russia proper itself, and no more than giving any member of NATO all the war materials they need, and then sitting back and watching the slaughter unfold on TV” … Makes some small country wonder why NATO can save them from total destruction. Gives “having your back” a little different meaning.
John Walsh — What a refreshing piece of commentary. As one commentator reminded us, “Before they drop the bombs, they drop the narrative.” And the official narrative has repeatedly led us to war as for example, WMD, the Gulf of Tonkin incident (which was a fabrication that led us into the Vietnam war, all the way back to Remember the Maine. And in Ukraine, here we go again. Wikipedia tells us that the war in Ukraine began with the Ukriane government’s shelling of the Donbas in 2015 killing thousands of Russian speaking Ukrainians. So Putin did not fire the first shot. The antidote to fake history which leads us to war is real history, real context and this piece is a gem from that point of view.
Benjamin Ragsdale — Of course Wilayto’s apologia supports Russia’s brutal acts of aggression against Ukraine. Beyond that, his obsession with evil in most things the U.S. and its allies do is over the top. America has made (and continues to make) serious mistakes. I spent five years opposing our involvement in Vietnam and continue to criticize certain actions. But our leadership in Ukraine is laudatory and should not be undermined. It is an action tied to our basic ideals
Steven Vornov — “None of this is meant to endorse Russia’s war” LOL Wilayto’s argument reminds me of an incarcerated man I met. He was upset because he saw a woman’s purse hanging over her seat. He reached over and grabbed it. Unfortunately, for both him and her, she tried to hold on to the purse and broke her hip in a fall. Sitting in jail he complained that she shouldn’t have left her purse out. Also Wilayto’s description of NATO’s founding is nonsense. NATO was formed after Stalin reneged on agreements to allow Poland, Hungary etc to choose their own governments. Instead Stalin unleashed mass terror to impose Communist governments. Also, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the former Soviet puppets rushed to join the alliance. They remembered the days of brutality and exploitation.
Old Redneck — Thank you, Phil, for an example of how to misread facts. While the case can be made the Putin sees NATO expansion as “provocation,” perhaps we should toss in two more facts.
- The Eastern European states who joined NATO — along with Finland and Norway — had 50 years’ experience of Russian occupation and control. They don’t want to repeat the post-WW II era up to 1989.
- Putin has announced that he sees himself as Peter the Great, expanding Russia’s control over its neighbors.
Facts can be very inconvenient.
Roy Woodson — I would ask the author this simple question: Is there any chance, by any stretch of the imagination, that NATO would do anything close to invading Russia or even attempting to annex any part of Russia’s territory? If you struggle with answering that, I’ll help you. The answer is No.
More comments online here.