The war in Ukraine is barbarous and awful beyond comprehension. The formula in the US media that the attack was unjustified is true, but its frequent corollary, that it was completely unprovoked, is not. This is Noam Chomsky’s and Daniel Ellsberg’s assessment, but is unheard in US media, as usual. Jeffrey Sachs on Democracy Now! pointed out that the New York Times has used the word “unprovoked” regarding this invasion 26 times in its editorials, its opinion columns, and its invited guest op-eds.
The Eisenhower Media Project (EMP)’s May 16 full-page ad in the Times called for the US to be an agent for peace in the world, and suggested that the expansion of NATO over the last few decades was indeed a factor in the escalation of the violent impasse into a full onslaught in Ukraine. The EMP was consequently attacked for echoing Putin’s talking points. The expansion of NATO has been consistent US policy from the neoconservative Republican George W. Bush administration up to the liberal Democratic Joe Biden administration today. The neoconservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC), established in 1997 as a US foreign policy think tank, was a key influence on the Bush administration, specifically in support for the US attack on Iraq. The persistent presence of Victoria Nuland in the State Department—advised by her husband Robert K. Kagan, cofounder of PNAC—is the supreme example of the continuity of neocon influence. For the PNAC, nothing but complete US dominance in the world is acceptable. Any competitor of any kind must be dealt with in terms that ignore blowback and the devastating consequences for people throughout the world.
Warnings about NATO Expansion
The arguments about NATO expansion aren’t particularly new. In fact, the EMP could easily say they were echoing George Kennan’s opposition to NATO expansion in the late 1940s. He was one of the architects of containment policy. This isn’t because he had any brief for the Soviet Union, but he realized it was too dangerous to encircle the USSR in a way that would clearly provoke that country. This is truer today than in the earlier decades.
Professor John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago occasionally gets an op-ed column in the US mainstream media, but he is derided in a similar fashion as the EMP. He is one of the few scholars who points out that current CIA director Bill Burns, who was Ambassador to Moscow in 2008, penned an official memo entitled “Nyet Means Nyet: Russia’s NATO Enlargement Redlines.” Burns wrote that “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all red lines for [Russia]” and “I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.” (Burns actually used more colorful language to emphasize the point.) Furthermore, he cited Angela Merkel’s remark that NATO expansion would be “a declaration of war on Russia.” Her vision for a wider non-zero-sum peaceful post-Cold War European home is tragically gone.
Mearsheimer wrote an article immediately after the 2014 Ukraine coup titled “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin.” He predicted at the time, “The West is leading Ukraine down the primrose path and the end result is Ukraine is going to get wrecked.” This article went largely unnoticed in public discourse, but later generated a YouTube speech that circulated widely in the lead-up to the onslaught in Ukraine. Among other dissident insights, he pointed out that given the scale of NATO military support, Ukraine was already a de facto member of the alliance.
Beyond the broad consensus for aiding Ukraine, the neocons and “Cold-War liberals” have had a much more expansive goal. The Rand Corporation, where strategies are developed and floated as trial balloons, published a major paper, “Overextending and Unbalancing Russia: Assessing the Impact of Cost-Imposing Options.” Chomsky asserts that the Pentagon itself has had an official policy of undermining Russia. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in public that he “wants to see Russia weakened.” Although widely regarded as a gaff, the statement was not walked back. President Biden issued a major statement on Ukraine the following day but deflected questions regarding any change in goals.
Continuity of US policy goes back to the Jimmy Carter administration. His National Security Advisor, Zbigniew (“Zbigy”) Brzeziński, articulated a strategy of bleeding the USSR in Afghanistan. He was not overly concerned that it would result in “some agitated Muslims,” while destabilizing the region and the world. But we now know that the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11 was part of the severe blowback. It’s worth an extended quote from Brzeziński’s 1998 Nouvel Observateur interview, little commented on in US media:
“Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention . . . . That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, essentially: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam war.’ Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime, a conflict that bought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”
Cold and calculating, this is the nature of the sociopathic imperial policy, again little commented on in the US. Robert Wade of the London School of Economics noted this quote in his discussion of Zbigy’s machinations and their implications in an article titled “Why the US and NATO Have Long Wanted Russia to Attack Ukraine.” Continuity in US policy is further illustrated in that Zbigy’s son is now Ambassador to Poland, Ukraine’s most belligerent ally in the war.
Tainted with Fascism and Right-Wing Extremism
So one should examine other common aspects of the media representation of Ukraine, as it has many flaws. The Putin-[Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov line about denazification should be one of them as there is much more unreported than one would possibly imagine. The low percentage of far-right seats, cited widely to diminish its Right Sektor’s role in the parliament in Ukraine, is deceptive. Ukrainian ultranationalists in the Right Sektor have much more power in informal and formal ways than is generally acknowledged in the US media. The killing of members of an opposition group by burning a building in Odessa several months after the coup is a paramount example of potent intimidation. Ultranationalist Andriy Parubiy was chair of the Rada (parliament) for four years. In that position he was critical in blocking processes that might have lessened tension. Rather he fanned the flames, for instance by designating Ukrainian as the only official language. Critically, his position was pivotal in blocking the European negotiations, the Minsk-Normandy Accords (naming it for the locations where the talks took place). Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland’s “Fuck the EU” 2014 remark foreshadows the US lack of support for Zelensky’s campaign pledge to negotiate and find a modus vivendi.
Also take the case of Arsen Avakov, former head of Ukraine’s secret police. The Jerusalem Post reported that “in November 2014, Ukraine’s chief rabbi Yaakov Bleich condemned Avakov’s appointment of Azov Battalion deputy commander Vadym Troyan as Kyiv Oblast (district) police chief and demanded that ‘if the interior minister continues to appoint people of questionable repute and ideologies tainted with fascism and right-wing extremism, the interior minister should be replaced.’” He wasn’t for seven years! Indeed, Zelensky ousted Avakov only in partially fulfilling his pledge to root out corruption.
Andriy Biletsky is an example of informal power, though the Azov Battalion which he cofounded was eventually brought into the official military. (US Congressional restrictions called for no funding of Azov prior to that.) He had been a street-fighting soccer hooligan, beating up immigrants and intimidating Russian speakers in the early 2000s. He worked closely with Avakov from 2005 when the latter was governor of the Kharkiv region. Biletsky was imprisoned for less than petty thievery, but released by then–Minister of Internal Affairs Avakov when his brute skills were useful. He was nicknamed Bely Vozd (White Ruler) by his supporters. The Guardian reporting had this assessment: “Biletsky has toned down his rhetoric in recent years, but the former Azov battalion commander declared in 2010 that the Ukrainian nation’s mission was to ‘lead the white races of the world in a final crusade . . . against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans].’”
The complicated circumstances around the Russian re-annexation of the Crimea Peninsula, which had been part of the Ukraine from 1954 to 2014 has been abysmally covered in the US media. For instance, National Public Radio had a short explainer that neglected to point out the salient fact that Soviet head of state Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine by decree. There are similar details in both the Ukraine and Georgian crises. Both territories were given to the polities by Soviet dictators. Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine; Stalin, favorite son of Georgia, gave South Ossetia (where Farsi is spoken) and Abkhazia (not culturally Georgian) to his birth state. At the time of the flareup in mid-2000, it was quite surreal to hear McCain railing in favor of a dictat of good ole Joe.
As emphasized in the beginning, Russia’s war in Ukraine is unjustified, but not unprovoked, and much more complicated than the stories we’re hearing in the US media.
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