The Ukraine/Russia conflict is particularly ominous because it could escalate into a nuclear war, and for this reason it is necessary to understand the role of the United States. The information presented below needs further research to provide a full picture which must necessarily include nuclear weapons, NATO, the economy, and patterns of U.S. domination. The political world is dangerously in flux with entangled military alliances and a robust weapons trade, similar to the prelude to WWI when it took one trigger to unleash cascading inter-state violence. The current destructive potential is unprecedented in the “New American Century” of full-spectrum dominance, with the U.S. holding most responsibility for 50+ million refugees worldwide, for the 1.3+ million people killed since 2003 in the U.S.-led war on terror, for the US $1.1tn allocation to upgrade nuclear weapons, for destruction of the ecosphere. The global oligarchy cashes in on American power and its institutions, affecting all people of the world. The research of investigative journalists and informed intellectuals is crucial to the work of overturning these policies. These contributions will be summarized and integrated.
Murray Dobbin: “What are the consequences when elected governments make policy based on faith and imperial hubris instead of science and expertise? It’s a question that is forcing itself on the world as we watch the United States, Britain, NATO and the Harper [Canada] government continue to up the ante in the confrontation with Russia over the Ukraine. There are real enough geo-political dangers in the world without actually creating them out of arrogance and ignorance but that is where we are right now and the consequences could be catastrophic…. Canada, Britain, the U.S. and the boys with their toys in NATO headquarters are looking for a fight with Russia”
James Bissett: “The current crisis in Ukraine threatens global security and at worst has the potential for nuclear catastrophe. At best it signals a continuation of the Cold War. Sadly, the crisis is completely unnecessary and the responsibility lies entirely in the hands of the United States-led NATO powers. The almost virulent propaganda onslaught blaming Russia for the instability and violence in Ukraine simply ignores reality and the facts.” James Bissett is a former Canadian diplomat. He was Canada’s ambassador to Yugoslavia, Albania, and Bulgaria.
Robert Parry: “The intensity of the smear campaign against Russia and the portrayal of its president as a pantomime villain is unlike anything I have known as a reporter. According to the Western ‘group think,’ the post-coup Ukrainian government ‘shares our values’ by favoring democracy and modernity, while the rebellious ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine are ‘Moscow’s minions’ representing dark forces of backwardness and violence, personified by Russia’s ‘irrational’ President Putin. In this view, the conflict is a clash between the forces of good and evil where there is no space for compromise… To a degree that I have not seen in my 37 years covering Washington, there is a totalitarian quality to the West’s current ‘group think’ about Ukraine with virtually no one who ‘matters’ deviating from the black-and-white depiction of good guys in Kiev vs bad guys in Donetsk and Moscow.”
Gary Leupp: “The U.S. has military personnel stationed in about 130 countries in the world—that is, in two-thirds of the countries who are members of the UN. In contrast, Russia has military forces stationed in, by my count, ten foreign countries, eight of them on its borders. And yet the U.S. press and political class depict Russia and specifically its president Vladimir Putin, a threatening juggernaut” (Professor of History, Tufts University).
Katrina Vanden-Heuvel: The US media blindly accepts the official US government version of events in Ukraine, and it is complicit in creating the false narrative that may lead the US toward war. “US triumphalism supplants reality in the unprecedented near unanimous complicity of the media elite and US progressives in supporting US policy toward Russia and the demonization of Putin.” Vanden-Heuvel is editor and publisher of The Nation. Round Table on “Defining a new security architecture for Europe that brings Russia in from the cold” Brussels, March 2, 2015.
Seumas Milne: “Politicians and the media are using Vladimir Putin and Ukraine to justify military expansionism . It’s dangerous folly”. “A quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, the ‘Russian threat’ is unmistakably back. Vladimir Putin, Britain’s defence secretary Michael Fallon declares, is as great a danger to Europe as ‘Islamic State’…. Putin’s authoritarian conservatism may offer little for Russia’s future, but this anti-Russian incitement is dangerous folly. There certainly has been military expansionism. But it has overwhelmingly come from NATO, not Moscow.”
American Friends Service Committee: “Corporate media outlets such as CNN, Fox News and the New York Times have colluded with leaders in Washington to whip up a new Cold War sentiment against Russia, while covering up the U.S. role in the recent violent events in Ukraine. Unmentioned by corporate media are the enormous U.S. financial and military interests at stake – from control of Ukraine’s oil and gas pipelines connecting Russia with Western Europe, to the prospect of NATO military bases on Russia’s western border.”
Stephen Cohen states that just blaming Putin and Russia means “no negotiation” and that no negotiation leads to war; this is a false historical narrative and a false political analysis. Feeling deeply about this avoidable human tragedy, he decries the predominant narrative: “But they’re using this language, ‘anti-terrorism.’ What are the East Ukrainians—what language are they using to refer to Yatsenyuk? ‘Fascist.’ So you’ve got a government in Kiev sending troops against people in eastern Ukraine on the grounds that they’re terrorists—they are not—and you have the insurgents, let’s call them that, in eastern Ukraine referring to the government as ‘fascist.’ That’s how far apart these people are, and all this on the 69th anniversary of World War II, when Ukraine and Russia lost millions of people to actual fascists. This is how bad it is. The false statement he made, and the premise on which American policy is being made, is that Putin attacked Ukraine and began this whole mess. Whatever you think about what the outcome should be, that is just factually untrue. All of this began when the United States and Europe asked Ukraine back last November to make a decision between Russia and the European Union.” Stephen Cohen is emeritus professor of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University. Hear his interviews on Democracy Now.
John J. Mearshimer: “According to the prevailing wisdom in the West, the Ukraine crisis can be blamed almost entirely on Russian aggression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, the argument goes, annexed Crimea out of a long-standing desire to resuscitate the Soviet empire, and he may eventually go after the rest of Ukraine, as well as other countries in eastern Europe. In this view, the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 merely provided a pretext for Putin’s decision to order Russian forces to seize part of Ukraine. But this account is wrong: the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis.” John Mearshimer is Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago.
Demonization of Putin can be more subtle, such as Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders’ article about the downing of flight MH17 in which he stated that Putin is to blame regardless of who actually shot the plane because Russia caused chaos in Ukraine. He wrote that all of Europe is under “assault” from Russia (July 18 2014).
NATO was formed in 1949, ostensibly as a defensive alliance against communism. In response, European communist states united under the Warsaw pact six years later. When the Berlin wall came down in 1989, Mikhael Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush made a verbal agreement to allow the re-unification of West and East Germany under condition that NATO would not expand “one inch” to the east. The dissolution of the Soviet Union 1991 ushered in major geopolitical shifts. In 1991, all nuclear weapons could have been eliminated and global leaders could have taken steps to eliminate carbon emissions as they had been informed about the critical state of the climate. Instead of dismantling nuclear arsenals, the U.S., with NATO involvement, immediately launched into the first major oil war, “shock and awe” in Iraq. Accompanying NATO wars involving the use of depleted uranium, cluster bombs, massive civilian casualties and infrastructure destruction, and impoverished nations were then forced to borrow from the IMF and sell off public assets. From 1992-1995, NATO fought in Bosnia, and in 1999 Clinton mounted NATO attacks on Serbia in contravention of the UN Charter. The Clinton administration “was sticking to its stand that NATO should be able to act independently of the United Nations.”1 In 1992, the World Bank was given responsibility for managing the Global Environment Facility (global funds) and accelerated investment in coal and large dams. The World Bank was also involved with the transition of communist Eastern bloc countries to a capitalist economy, resulting in a large-scale privatization of public companies.2
By the late 1990s, the U.S. was expanding NATO membership and NATO bases to the east. In 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined NATO. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined NATO in 2004. At the April 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, the United States supported inviting Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance. Georgia’s bid to join NATO in 2008 led directly to the South Ossetia war. Georgia President Saakashvili, trained at George Washington University, launched an attack on Russian speaking republics along Russia’s border and Russia responded by counter-attacking Georgia. The US sent weapons and US military advisers to Georgia. Ukraine’s bid to join NATO predictably provokes Russia.
Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State under Clinton, strongly criticized NATO expansion. “Russia’s resentment toward the United States and the crisis that erupted in March 2014 with Russia’s occupation of Crimea were not unrelated to the Clinton administration’s insistence in the 1990s that NATO be expanded to Russia’s borders.” Talbott continued that Russian President Boris Yeltsin “openly expressed bitterness toward the U.S. and toward Clinton personally. ‘Why,’ he kept asking, ‘had ‘our friend Bill’ unleashed ‘this monster’?….It seemed like virtually everyone I knew from the world of academe, journalism, and foreign policy think-tanks was against enlargement.”3 George Kennan later termed enlargement a ‘strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions.’ ‘[E]xpanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold war era,’ he wrote. ‘Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”4
Russians note the double standard, comparing Kosovo and Crimea: Kosovo, backed by NATO, seceded from Serbia in 2008 without any referendum and was recognized immediately by the United Nations. The U.N. strongly condemned Russia for its aggression in absorbing Crimea even though a large proportion of Crimean people voted to secede from Ukraine and for re-absorption into Russia. Subsequent reliable polls show a high rate of approval of absorption into Russia by people in Crimea.5
To date, upwards of 6000 people have been killed in Ukraine and over 1.5 million people displaced. Former Russian president Gorbachev now accuses the West of dragging Russia into a new Cold War. NATO was never investigated or held accountable by the International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia,6 and recent NATO commanders distort facts with impunity. General Breedlove – “whose name and actions might have been inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – announced that 40,000 Russian troops were ‘massing.’ In the age of forensic satellite evidence, he offered none. There is in fact no evidence of mass Russian troop movement.”7 “German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government…did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander.”8 Former Secretary-General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently stated that “NATO is the most successful peace movement the world has ever known.” He said that the accusation of encirclement of Russia is not justified, that NATO does not pose a threat to Russia, that there was never a promise not to expand NATO or the EU. Nevertheless, he says, it was the right thing to expand. He maintains that the root cause of the conflict is Russian expansion and that NATO brings prosperity.9
There is much documentation about current NATO expansion and war games on Russia’s border. The military encirclement and show of force against Russia are carefully documented by Rick Rozoff on the Stop NATO website, by Bruce Gagnon’s Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, Roger Annis’ New Cold War and 10 Counterpunch.
What makes Ukraine/Russia so dangerous is that it is a proxy war between nuclear-armed United States and Russia. An advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice ruled that even threatening to use nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, yet the United States ambiguously threatens their use in a “first strike”. In 2002, G.W. Bush unilaterally pulled out of the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. The 1972 ABM treaty was the cornerstone of nuclear weapons deterrence and international security. During the Cold War there was a belief that there could be no winners because of “mutually assured destruction”. But the development of missile defense, with technology capable of detecting missiles within one minute of launch, has led to the U.S. believing it can win a nuclear war. The missile defense system has been called an “offense” system. Putin has recently said that missile defense “creates the dangerous illusion of invincibility.” He also said that US unilateral withdrawal from the ABM in 2002 “poses a threat not only to Russia’s security, but also to the entire world.” (Tass, 4 December 2014 ). In October 2014, President Obama provocatively allocated $1.1tn to upgrade nuclear weapons.
There is increasingly open talk supporting the nuclear option. “A senior Ukrainian official is urging the West to risk a nuclear conflagration in support of a ‘full-scale war’ with Russia that he says authorities in Kiev are now seeking, another sign of the extremism that pervades the year-old U.S.-backed regime in Kiev. In a recent interview with Canada’s CBC Radio, Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said, ‘Everybody is afraid of fighting with a nuclear state. We are not anymore, in Ukraine – we’ve lost so many people of ours, we’ve lost so much of our territory….’ 11 In response, Robert Parry asks “Why should such a pedestrian dispute justify the possibility of vaporizing millions of human beings and conceivably ending life on the planet?…. If we begin to notice that the right-wing regime in Kiev is crazy and brutal, we might also start questioning the ‘Russian aggression’ mantra…. Yet, what is perhaps most remarkable about Prystaiko’s ‘Dr. Strangelove’ moment is that it produced almost no reaction in the west.” 12 On April 23, 2015, MEPs (Members of European Parliament) declared that the EU’s readiness for nuclear war “is one of the best steps to deter Russia from further aggression.” 13
With these concerns uppermost, anti-nuclear leader Dr. Helen Caldicott organized a symposium in New York February 28-March 1, 2015 with experts on nuclear weapons and geopolitics.14 The conference was recorded and is accessible but was unreported by the media and largely ignored by the anti-war movement. Even the major anti-nuclear weapons websites do not have statements about the urgent nuclear weapons danger due to the Ukraine/Russia US proxy war. The Non-Proliferation Treaty five year Review Conference is fortunately drawing attention to nuclear weapons, and on April 24, 2015, Global Zero issued a press release asking that all nuclear weapons be taken off of hair-trigger alert: “The Commission’s extensive report will call for (1) an urgent agreement between the United States and Russia to begin a phased stand-down of their high-alert strategic forces, and (2) a longer-term global agreement requiring all nuclear weapons countries to refrain from putting nuclear weapons on high alert.”15
Theodore Postol spoke at the Caldicott symposium. He is professor emeritus of science, technology, and national security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The most dangerous insanity in human history”, the danger of nuclear war is considerably higher than during the Cold War. He said that the United States treats Russia as Germany was treated after World War I and as if Russia’s concerns have no merit. Postol focused on the technical problems that greatly increase the chances of a nuclear war. Russians have a fragile early warning system unlike the United States. They have been unable to build a working space-based early warning system, and this is of greatest danger as Russia can detect incoming missiles only when they are above the earth’s horizon. Therefore, there may be as little as six minutes for Russians to determine whether an enemy missile has been launched, six minutes to decide whether to counterattack with nuclear weapons. In contrast, the United States can know within one minute whether and from where a missile has been launched. “Despite this frightening reality, [US] policy-makers have not attempted to analyze the benefit to US security of pushing the Russians to a higher state of alert. Nor have they asked how an increased US nuclear threat to Russia improves the security of US allies – or for that matter, anyone else around the globe.”
Postol says that the Russians are aware of the vulnerability in their system and are also aware of the United States’ “relentless preoccupation with building nuclear weapons systems.” The United States dangerously treats nuclear weapons as if they are conventional weapons. This is a profoundly false belief that nuclear war objectives can be the same as in a conventional war. In the mythology of nuclear war fighting, the US would need “redundancy” to destroy any possibilities of counterattack. Having a high damage rate is part of nuclear strategic planning. Postol writes that the nuclear weapons overhaul announced by Obama focuses on improving the accuracy of long-range land- and sea- based ballistic missile warheads and on increasing the killing power of other nuclear warheads….But a close analysis reveals a technically sophisticated effort to ready US nuclear forces for a direct confrontation with Russia.” “Sophisticated Russian analysts, especially those who understand the technical aspects of nuclear weapons, see the [US] modernization drive as a disturbing indication that the US military believes a nuclear war against Russia can be fought and won…..Do US military and political leaders actually believe that the upgraded systems could serve a useful military purpose? If so, could such ill-informed beliefs lead to a cascade of events that result in a nuclear catastrophe? The troubling answer to both questions is yes.” Postol concludes that “the modernization effort significantly increases the chances of an accident during an unpredicted, and unpredictable crisis – one that could escalate beyond anyone’s capacity to imagine. The real problem is not irrationality but unpredictability. The reasons things happen are far more complex than obsessive nuclear planning can ever predict. The US modernization program is producing nuclear forces that will severely complicate the chances of backing away from disaster if a crisis were to occur. Anyone who looks at history knows that such crises will occur, and that they result from unpredictable and unforeseen events.”16
John Mearshimer formulates three ways that the United States is drawing Ukraine into the western orbit: NATO membership, European Union membership, and regime change. Precipitating protests against the elected president Viktor Yanukovych was his opposition to joining the EU in favor of a Russian agreement. The U.S. gave $5b to the political opposition, and U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland was involved in selecting the new leadership.17
The “US-Saudi manoeuvre to turn up heat on Russia and Iran” aimed to create economic havoc in these countries by flooding the oil market in order to collapse the price of crude. 70% of Russia’s economy is based on oil and gas exports.18 Lowering the price of oil also serves U.S. aims to bring about regime change in oil-producing Iran and Venezuela.
Also under-reported is an important item from the Oakland Institute: “Walking on the West Side: the World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict” exposes how the international financial institutions “swooped in on the heels of the political upheaval and are vying to deregulate and throw open Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector to foreign investors. Immediately following the change to a pro-EU government, the country’s pivot to the West was solidified with a $17 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and an additional $3.5 billion aid package from the World Bank, both of which require significant economic reforms and austerity measures that are set to have disastrous effects within the nation.”
The new Ukrainian Finance Minister, Nataliwe Jaresko, is a former senior US State Department official who was hurriedly given Ukrainian citizenship. Vice President Joe Biden’s son is on the board of Ukraine’s biggest oil, gas and fracking company.
Well-known are the words of Martin Luther King stating that the United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, yet there is little attention to the aggressive role of the U.S. in this dangerous Ukraine/Russia crisis.19 Specific to the escalating nuclear threat, there is a historical pattern of US action and USSR reaction in the escalation of the arms race. For example, the first US nuclear chain reaction was 1942 (US) and 1946 (USSR); the first atom bomb exploded 1945 (US) and 1949 (USSR); accelerated buildup of strategic missiles 1961 (US) and 1966 (USSR); multiple warheads on missiles 1964 (US) and 1973 (USSR), computerized guidance on missiles 1970 (US) and 1975 (USSR).20
Relevant to the plausibility of U.S. interference in Ukraine’s government by Victoria Nuland is a history of U.S. involvement in coups against democratically elected governments and the installation of dictators: among them, the Shah of Iran, General Suharto in Indonesia, Batista in Cuba, Somoza in Nicaragua, Pinochet in Chile, Mobutu in Congo-Zaire, Lobo in Honduras. Chalmers Johnson writes that “democracy did develop in some important cases as a result of opposition to our [US] interference, for example, after the collapse of the CIA-installed Greek colonels in 1974; in both Portugal in 1974 and Spain in 1975 after the end of the U.S. – supported fascist dictatorships; after the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986; following the ouster of General Chun Doo Hwan in South Korea in 1987; and following the ending of thirty-eight years of martial law on the island of Taiwan in the same year.” (p 57). Johnson also writes of the United States standing behind the late-twentieth century tortures, disappearances, death squads, military coups, and right-wing pogroms against workers, peasants, and the educated” in most Latin American countries. (p. 123).21
John McMurtry, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Guelph, provides a partial list of how the U.S. undermines virtually all international laws to protect human life: “The US has refused to ratify the International Criminal Court to uphold the law against war crimes and crimes against humanity, and it has publicly repudiated the Court’s right to investigate US criminal violations including the ‘supreme crime’ of a war of aggression…. [The U.S. has not ratified] treaties and conventions against landmines, against biological weapons, against international ballistic missiles, against small arms, against torture, against racism, against arbitrary seizure and imprisonment, against military weather distortions, against biodiversity loss, against climate destabilization, and even international agreements on the rights of children and of women.” 22
Eminent investigative journalist and filmmaker John Pilger writes of the United States: “Since 1945, more than a third of the membership of the United Nations – 69 countries – have suffered some or all of the following at the hands of America’s modern fascism. They have been invaded, their governments overthrown, their popular movements suppressed, their elections subverted, their people bombed and their economies stripped of all protection, their societies subjected to a crippling siege known as “sanctions”.23
There is a telling historical precedent in US and Soviet relations described by Chalmers Johnson. Contrary to received opinion, former president Carter authorized payments to Afghan mujahideen months before, not after, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The intention was to provoke a Soviet incursion, to use the mujahideen like “cannon fodder in order to give the USSR its own Vietnam.” National security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former CIA Director Robert Gates later confirmed this sequence of events. Afghanistan fared much better under the communists than under the Taliban and under Karzai. The U.S. was not really interested in Afghan welfare and pulled out when the Taliban took over.24
Lastly, there are the interpersonal relations. There are the bullying, dismissive interactions with Russians by North American and European leaders, and thumbnail formulations about Russian paranoia. Stephen Cohen, in many interviews and articles, speaks about the Russian and Ukrainian people – not as thugs but as people with lives, relationships, memories. Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Jack Matlock speaks of the U.S.’ autistic foreign policy. Of grave insensitivity was the decision to exclude the Russians from the June 6th 2014 commemoration of the defeat of Nazi Germany. “The Soviet Union suffered at least 24 million casualties in World War II. Well over eight million Soviet soldiers died fighting Hitler, in the process destroying 70% of the German Wehrmacht and 80% of the Luftwaffe. If the Soviets were not at the time shredding so many German divisions on the Eastern Front, the Allies might well have had to swim back to England on D-Day. Yet in but one of many petty insults, the US and its allies patted themselves on the back this last June 6th without inviting Mr. Putin to the party. (US losses in WWII, including the Pacific, were 408,000.).” Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers died between 1942 and 1944 defending Crimea from Nazi Germany.25 On May 9, 2015, the West will again snub Russia’s Victory Day commemoration. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said “No one has asked the European veterans of the second world war whether it is right to boycott those who lost hundreds of thousands of people while saving Europe from fascism.”26
Powerful voices in the EU, U.S., and Canada are calling for military intervention, even the use of nuclear weapons. A great deal is known and is accessible, but there are pressures to simplify in the direction of demonizing Putin and occluding dire facts about the United States and its allies. It is a most dangerous time to collude with authority and to be silent.