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Is the Ukraine ‘Crisis’ Just Another US Charade?

Is the Ukraine ‘Crisis’ Just Another US Charade?
Russian servicemen and armoured vehicles stand on the road in the Rostov region of Russia. EPA

Today we face an avoidable crisis that was predictable, actually predicted, willfully precipitated, but easily resolved by the application of common sense.

We are being told each day that war may be imminent in Ukraine. Russian troops, we are told, are massing at Ukraine’s borders and could attack at any time. American citizens are being advised to leave Ukraine and dependents of the American Embassy staff are being evacuated. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian president has advised against panic and made clear that he does not consider a Russian invasion imminent. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has denied that he has any intention of invading Ukraine. His demand is that the process of adding new members to NATO cease and that in particular, Russia has assurance that Ukraine and Georgia will never be members. President Biden has refused to give such assurance but made clear his willingness to continue discussing questions of strategic stability in Europe. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government has made clear it has no intention of implementing the agreement reached in 2015 for reuniting the Donbas provinces into Ukraine with a large degree of local autonomy—an agreement with Russia, France and Germany which the United States endorsed.

Maybe I am wrong—tragically wrong—but I cannot dismiss the suspicion that we are witnessing an elaborate charade, grossly magnified by prominent elements of the American media, to serve a domestic political end. Facing rising inflation, the ravages of Omicron, blame (for the most part unfair) for the withdrawal from Afghanistan, plus the failure to get the full support of his own party for the Build Back Better legislation, the Biden administration is staggering under sagging approval ratings just as it gears up for this year’s congressional elections. Since clear “victories” on the domestic woes seem increasingly unlikely, why not fabricate one by posing as if he prevented the invasion of Ukraine by “standing up to Vladimir Putin”? Actually, it seems most likely that President Putin’s goals are what he says they are—and as he has been saying since his speech in Munich in 2007. To simplify and paraphrase, I would sum them up as: “Treat us with at least a modicum of respect. We do not threaten you or your allies, why do you refuse us the security you insist for yourself?”

In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, many observers, ignoring the rapidly unfolding events that marked the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, considered that the end of the Cold War. They were wrong. The Cold War had ended at least two years earlier. It ended by negotiation and was in the interest of all the parties. President George H.W. Bush hoped that Gorbachev would manage to keep most of the twelve non-Baltic republics in a voluntary federation. On August 1, 1991, he made a speech to the Ukrainian parliament (the Verkhovna Rada) in which he endorsed Gorbachev’s plans for a voluntary federation and warned against “suicidal nationalism.” The latter phrase was inspired by Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakurdia’s attacks on minorities in Soviet Georgia. For reasons I will explain elsewhere, they apply to Ukraine today. Bottom line: Despite the prevalent belief, both among the “blob” in the United States, and most of the Russian public, the United States did not support, much less cause the break-up of the Soviet Union. We supported throughout the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and one of the last acts of the Soviet parliament was to legalize their claim to independence. And—by the way—despite frequently voiced fears—Vladimir Putin has never threatened to re-absorb the Baltic countries or to claim any of their territories, though he has criticized some that denied ethnic Russians the full rights of citizenship, a principle that the European Union is pledged to enforce.

But, let’s move on to the first of the assertions in the subtitle…

Was the crisis avoidable?

Well, since President Putin’s major demand is an assurance that NATO will take no further members, and specifically not Ukraine or Georgia, obviously there would have been no basis for the present crisis if there had been no expansion of the alliance following the end of the Cold War, or if the expansion had occurred in harmony with building a security structure in Europe that included Russia.

Maybe we should look at this question more broadly. How do other countries respond to alien military alliances near their borders? Since we are talking about American policy, maybe we should pay some attention to the way the United States has reacted to attempts of outsiders to establish alliances with countries nearby. Anybody remember the Monroe Doctrine, a declaration of a sphere of influence that comprised an entire hemisphere? And we meant it! When we learned that Kaiser’s Germany was attempting to enlist Mexico as an ally during the first world war, that was a powerful incentive for the subsequent declaration of war against Germany. Then, of course, in my lifetime, we had the Cuban Missile Crisis—something I remember vividly since I was at the American Embassy in Moscow and translated some of Khrushchev’s messages to Kennedy.

Should we look at events like the Cuban Missile Crisis from the standpoint of some of the principles of international law, or from the standpoint of the likely behavior of a country’s leaders if they feel threatened? What did international law at that time say about the employment of nuclear missiles in Cuba? Cuba was a sovereign state and had the right to seek support for its independence from anywhere it chose. It had been threatened by the United States, even an attempt to invade, using anti-Castro Cubans. It asked the Soviet Union for support. Knowing that the United States had deployed nuclear weapons in Turkey, a U.S. ally actually bordering on the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, decided to station nuclear missiles in Cuba. How could the U.S. legitimately object if the Soviet Union was deploying weapons similar to those deployed against it?

Obviously, it was a mistake. A big mistake! (One is reminded of Talleyrand’s remark..”Worse than a crime …”) International relations, like it or not, are not determined by debating, interpreting and applying the finer points of “international law”—which in any case is not the same as municipal law, the law within countries. Kennedy had to react to remove the threat. The Joint Chiefs recommended taking out the missiles by bombing. Fortunately, Kennedy stopped short of that, declared a blockade and demanded the removal of the missiles.

At the end of the week of messages back and forth—I translated Khrushchev’s longest—it was agreed that Khrushchev would remove the nuclear missiles from Cuba. What was not announced was that Kennedy also agreed that he would remove the U.S. missiles from Turkey but that this commitment must not be made public.

We American diplomats in Embassy Moscow were delighted at the outcome, of course. We were not even informed of the agreement regarding missiles in Turkey. We had no idea that we had come close to a nuclear exchange. We knew the U.S. had military superiority in the Caribbean and we would have cheered if the U.S. Air Force had bombed the sites. We were wrong. In later meetings with Soviet diplomats and military officers, we learned that, if the sites had been bombed, the officers on the spot could have launched the missiles without orders from Moscow. We could have lost Miami, and then what? We also did not know that a Soviet submarine came close to launching a nuclear-armed torpedo against the destroyer that was preventing its coming up for air.

It was a close call. It is quite dangerous to get involved in military confrontations with countries with nuclear weapons. You don’t need an advanced degree in international law to understand that. You need only common sense.

OK—It was predictable. Was it predicted?

“The most profound strategic blunder made since the end of the Cold War”

My words, and my voice was not the only one. In 1997, when the question of adding more members to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), I was asked to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In my introductory remarks, I made the following statement: “I consider the Administration’s recommendation to take new members into NATO at this time misguided. If it should be approved by the United States Senate, it may well go down in history as the most profound strategic blunder made since the end of the Cold War. Far from improving the security of the United States, its Allies, and the nations that wish to enter the Alliance, it could well encourage a chain of events that could produce the most serious security threat to this nation since the Soviet Union collapsed.”

The reason I cited was the presence in the Russian Federation of a nuclear arsenal that, in overall effectiveness, matched if not exceeded that of the United States. Either of our arsenals, if actually used in a hot war, was capable of ending the possibility of civilization on earth, possibly even causing the extinction of the human race and much other life on the planet. Though the United States and the Soviet Union had, as a result of arms control agreements concluded by the Reagan and first Bush administrations, negotiations for further reductions stalled during the Clinton Administration. There was not even an effort to negotiate the removal of short-range nuclear weapons from Europe.

That was not the only reason I cited for including rather than excluding Russia from European security. I explained as follows: “The plan to increase the membership of NATO fails to take account of the real international situation following the end of the Cold War, and proceeds in accord with a logic that made sense only during the Cold War. The division of Europe ended before there was any thought of taking new members into NATO. No one is threatening to re-divide Europe. It is therefore absurd to claim, as some have, that it is necessary to take new members into NATO to avoid a future division of Europe; if NATO is to be the principal instrument for unifying the continent, then logically the only way it can do so is by expanding to include all European countries. But that does not appear to be the aim of the Administration, and even if it is, the way to reach it is not by admitting new members piecemeal.”

Then I added, “All of the purported goals of NATO enlargement are laudable. Of course the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are culturally part of Europe and should be guaranteed a place in European institutions. Of course we have a stake in the development of democracy and stable economies there. But membership in NATO is not the only way to achieve these ends. It is not even the best way in the absence of a clear and identifiable security threat.”

In fact, the decision to expand NATO piecemeal was a reversal of American policies that produced the end of the Cold War and the liberation of Eastern Europe. President George H.W. Bush had proclaimed a goal of a “Europe whole and free.” Soviet President Gorbachev had spoken of “our common European home,” had welcomed representatives of East European governments who threw off their Communist rulers and had ordered radical reductions in Soviet military forces by explaining that for one country to be secure, there must be security for all. The first President Bush also assured Gorbachev during their meeting on Malta in December, 1989, that if the countries of Eastern Europe were allowed to choose their future orientation by democratic processes, the United States would not “take advantage” of that process. (Obviously, bringing countries into NATO that were then in the Warsaw Pact would be “taking advantage.”) The following year, Gorbachev was assured, though not in a formal treaty, that if a unified Germany was allowed to remain in NATO, there would be no movement of NATO jurisdiction to the east, “not one inch.”

These comments were made to President Gorbachev before the Soviet Union broke up. Once it did, the Russian Federation had less than half the population of the Soviet Union and a military establishment demoralized and in total disarray. While there was no reason to enlarge NATO after the Soviet Union recognized and respected the independence of the East European countries, there was even less reason to fear the Russian Federation as a threat.

Willfully Precipitated?

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 bin 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.

President Assad of Syria was a brutal dictator but the only effective bulwark against the Islamic state, a movement that had blossomed in Iraq following the U.S. invasion and was spreading into Syria. Military aid to a supposed “democratic opposition” quickly fell into the hands of jihadists allied with the very Al Qaeda that had organized the 9/11 attacks on the United States! But the threat to nearby Russia was much greater since many of the jihadists hailed from areas of the former Soviet Union including Russia itself. Syria is also Russia’s close neighbor; the U.S. was seen strengthening enemies of both the United States and Russia with its misguided attempt to decapitate the Syrian government.

So far as Ukraine is concerned, U.S. intrusion into its domestic politics was deep—to the point of seeming to select a prime minister. It also, in effect, supported an illegal coup d’etat that changed the Ukrainian government in 2014, a procedure not normally considered consistent with the rule of law or democratic governance. The violence that still simmers in Ukraine started in the “pro-Western” west, not in the Donbas where it was a reaction to what was viewed as the threat of violence against Ukrainians who are ethnic Russian.

During President Obama’s second term, his rhetoric became more personal, joining a rising chorus in the American and British media vilifying the Russian president. Obama spoke of economic sanctions against Russians as “costing” Putin for his “misbehavior” in Ukraine, conveniently forgetting that Putin’s action had been popular in Russia and that Obama’s own predecessor could be credibly accused of being a war criminal. Obama then began to hurl insults at the Russian nation as a whole, with allegations like “Russia makes nothing anybody wants,” conveniently ignoring the fact that the only way we could get American astronauts to the international space station at that time was with Russian rockets and that his government was trying its best to prevent Iran and Turkey from buying Russian anti-aircraft missiles.

I am sure some will say, “What’s the big deal? Reagan called the Soviet Union an evil empire, but then negotiated an end of the Cold War.” Right! Reagan condemned the Soviet empire of old—and subsequently gave Gorbachev credit for changing it—but he never publicly castigated the Soviet leaders personally. He treated them with personal respect, and as equals, even treating Foreign Minister Gromyko to formal dinners usually reserved for chiefs of state or government. His first words in private meetings was usually something like, “We hold the peace of the world in our hands. We must act responsibly so the world can live in peace.”

Things got worse during the four years of Donald Trump’s tenure. Accused, without evidence, of being a Russian dupe, Trump made sure he embraced every anti-Russian measure that came along, while at the same time flattered Putin as a great leader. Reciprocal expulsions of diplomats, started by the United States in the final days of Obama’s tenure continued in a grim vicious circle that has resulted in a diplomatic presence so emaciated that for months the United States did not have enough staff in Moscow to issue visas for Russians to visit the United States.

As so many of the other recent developments, the mutual strangulation of diplomatic missions reverses one of the proudest achievements of American diplomacy in latter Cold War years when we worked diligently and successfully to open up the closed society of the Soviet Union, to bring down the iron curtain that separated “East” and “West.” We succeeded, with the cooperation of a Soviet leader who understood that his country desperately needed to join the world.

All right, I rest my case that today’s crisis was “willfully precipitated.” But if that is so, how can I say that it can be…

Easily resolved by the application of common sense?

The short answer is because it can be. What President Putin is demanding, an end to NATO expansion and creation of a security structure in Europe that insures Russia’s security along with that of others is eminently reasonable. He is not demanding the exit of any NATO member and he is threatening none. By any pragmatic, common sense standard it is in the interest of the United States to promote peace, not conflict. To try to detach Ukraine from Russian influence—the avowed aim of those who agitated for the “color revolutions”—was a fool’s errand, and a dangerous one. Have we so soon forgotten the lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Now, to say that approving Putin’s demands is in the objective interest of the United States does not mean that it will be easy to do. The leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties have developed such a Russophobic stance (a story requiring a separate study) that it will take great political skill to navigate the treacherous political waters and achieve a rational outcome.

President Biden has made it clear that the United States will not intervene with its own troops if Russia invades Ukraine. So why move them into Eastern Europe? Just to show hawks in Congress that he is standing firm? For what? Nobody is threatening Poland or Bulgaria except waves of refugees fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and the desiccated areas of the African savannah. So what is the 82nd Airborne supposed to do?

Well, as I have suggested earlier, maybe this is just an expensive charade. Maybe the subsequent negotiations between the Biden and Putin governments will find a way to meet the Russian concerns. If so, maybe the charade will have served its purpose. And maybe then our members of congress will start dealing with the growing problems we have at home instead of making them worse.

One can dream, can’t one?

By Jack F. Matlock, Jr. was the last American ambassador to the USSR (1987-1991). A member of the board of director of ACURA, he writes from Singer Island, Florida.

This article was produced by in partnership with the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord to publish on Telegraf.

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The Two Wars Taking Place in Ukraine

The Two Wars Taking Place in Ukraine
Cars are stopped at a roadblock set by civil defensemen at a road leading to central Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. Explosions and gunfire that have disrupted life since the invasion began last week appeared to subside around Kyiv overnight, as Ukrainian and Russian delegations met Monday on Ukraine’s border with Belarus. It's unclear what, if anything, those talks would yield. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been ongoing for a full three weeks now. That is already a military success in itself for Ukraine: Many analysts (and the Kremlin itself) expected that lightning Russian operations could score a victory within days. Ukraine’s dogged resistance, however, has changed the narrative. The war has been costly for Moscow with more than 1,300 pieces of Russian military hardware destroyed or captured. One US estimate placed the number of Russians killed in action between 6,000 and 8,000  a staggering number when compared to the 2,401 military deaths suffered by the US during 20 years in Afghanistan.

But this hardly means the war’s end. Russia still possesses almost nine-tenths of its deployed combat strength in Ukraine, with significant territorial gains to show for it. The war in Ukraine has come to resemble two parallel, largely divergent stories: The war in the cities, and the war in the countryside.

The fight for Ukraine’s cities has received most of the attention thus far, and for good reason. Unable to seize key cities by quick special forces actions, Russia’s army has instead turned to its old playbook: Level them. This is perhaps most apparent in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, close to the Russian border in the northeast. After failed thunder runs into the city by Spetsnaz special forces and paratroopers in the opening days of the war, Russia has deployed artillery and multiple rocket launchers on Kharkiv’s northern and eastern outskirts. They are currently blasting entire apartment blocks into rubble, inflicting heavy civilian casualties while degrading Ukrainian defenders in the city.

A similar story is playing out in the western and eastern approaches to Kyiv, where Ukrainian forces have thus far managed to contain Russian attackers to the city’s edges. The most brutal urban combat is happening in Mariupol, the southeastern port city where Russian forces are slowly advancing amid massive bombardments that have reportedly killed thousands of civilians.

But there is another war playing out in Ukraine as well, one on which we have far less information: The war of maneuver in the Ukrainian countryside.

The primary axis of this fight is taking place in Ukraine’s east. There, the bulk of the Ukrainian army remains deployed along the front lines with the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, arrayed against joint Russian-separatist forces. The Ukrainian high command has been loath to abandon this region, for good reason: It is the most fortified in the country, having remained a semi-active but static front for the past eight years, while to withdraw would mean ceding large areas of Ukraine’s east. Well-supplied and experienced Ukrainian forces here have done well to date, containing any direct Russian advance punching forward from the east.

Recent developments, however, indicate that this force is increasingly in danger. Russian forces have linked up in the southeast, with units advancing from Crimea connecting with troops pushing out from the Donetsk region in a move that has isolated Mariupol. They continue to push northwards, recently capturing the town of Volnovakha after heavy fighting. To the north, Russian units moving from the Russian border are making significant inroads, reaching the outskirts of Severodonetsk (the regional headquarters of a number of Ukrainian formations) and seizing the junction town of Izyum, through which runs one of the key Ukrainian supply lines to the Donbas region. Russian forces are punching into rear areas now, in open terrain where only mobile Ukrainian armored units can check their advance. With no cities to block their way in this area, if current trends continue, the Ukrainian high command will soon be forced to make a difficult decision: Withdraw its Donbas forces towards the Dnieper river, essentially ceding the region to Russian control, or fight on and risk a double encirclement of the cream of the Ukrainian army.

This same story is playing out on a smaller scale in other areas of the country. In the south, Russian forces moving northwards from Crimea are making progress on both sides of the Dnieper, closing on the city of Zaporizhye to the east and Kryvyi Rih, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown, to the west. Further west, Russian forces appear to have halted outside the city of Mykolaiv, not attempting to push through it and onwards towards Odessa as envisioned. They are instead taking a similar approach as Kharkiv: Shred the city with fire from multiple rocket launchers at nighttime while bypassing it with their main units. In this case, that force is now moving northward into Ukraine’s soft underbelly, pushing not only towards Kryviy Rih but into the heartlands of central Ukraine as well.

It is yet unclear which of these two sides of the war will prove decisive. Russia’s advances deep into Ukrainian territory provide many opportunities for the defenders as well: Russia’s notoriously poor logistics have already been exposed and hampered further by repeated skillful raids by Ukrainian special forces and irregulars, capturing and destroying supply convoys and isolated units. Moscow also does not possess the manpower for a sustained presence deep in Ukraine’s rear areas, having struggled already to commit enough forces to occupation efforts. Either way, the next week in the Donbas region in particular will bear close watching, and will play a significant role in determining whether Russia can defeat enough of the Ukrainian army to force some sort of settlement, or whether Moscow’s increasingly battered forces will be ground down short of their goal.

By Neil Hauer is a security analyst currently in Kyiv, Ukraine. Usually based in Tbilisi, Georgia, his work focuses on, among other things, politics, minorities and violence in the Caucasus.


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Why Europe Needs to Take a Hard Look at Itself

Why Europe Needs to Take a Hard Look at Itself
The European Commission. AP

Europe needs to take a hard look at itself. Because it has proved to be incapable of dealing with the causes of the Ukraine crisis, Europe is now condemned to deal with its consequences.

Although the dust of this tragedy has not even begun to settle, we are forced to conclude that Europe’s leaders did not and do not have what it takes to deal with the situation at hand. They will go down in history as Europe’s most mediocre leaders since the end of the Second World War. They are now making sure that they do their best in terms of humanitarian assistance, and their efforts in that regard should not be questioned. But the reason they are doing it is to save face in the light of the biggest scandal of our time. Over the last seventy years they have ruled over populations who have been at the forefront in terms of organizing themselves and demonstrating against war wherever it happens to be waged. But it turns out that they were not able to defend those same populations from the war that had been brewing at home since at least as early as 2014. The European democracies have just shown that they have a government without the people. There are numerous reasons for coming to this conclusion.

Both Russia and the US have been preparing for this war for some time. In the case of Russia, there had been clear indications, in recent years, that the country was accumulating huge gold reserves and giving priority to a strategic partnership with China. This was especially noticeable in the financial sphere, where a bank merger and the creation of a new international currency are the ultimate goal, and in the sphere of trade, with its Belt and Road Initiative and the tremendous possibilities for expansion that it will open up throughout Eurasia. As regards relationships with its European partners, Russia has proved to be a credible partner, while making clear what its security concerns were. These were legitimate concerns, if we only stop to think that in the world of superpowers there is neither good nor bad, only strategic interests that need to be accommodated. That was the case with the 1962 missile crisis, when the US drew a red line in respect of the installation of medium-range missiles 70 km from its border. Let it not be thought that the Soviet Union was the only one to give in, because the US also removed its medium-range missiles from Turkey. Trade-off, accommodation, lasting agreement. Why wasn’t it possible in the case of Ukraine? Let us turn to the preparations on the US side.

Faced with the decline of the global dominance it has enjoyed since 1945, the US is trying at all costs to consolidate its zones of influence, so as to maintain its advantages in trade and access to raw materials for US companies.

What is written below has been gleaned from official and think tank documents:

The policy of regime change is not aimed at creating democracies, but rather at creating governments that are loyal to US interests. Not a single democratic State has emerged from the bloody interventions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. The promotion of democracy was not what led the US to actively support coups that deposed democratically elected presidents in Honduras (2009), Paraguay (2012), Brazil (2016) and Bolivia (2019), not to mention the 2014 coup in Ukraine. China has been the US’s main rival for some time now. In the case of Europe, the US strategy rests on two pillars: to provoke Russia and to neutralize Europe (and Germany in particular). In 2019, the Rand Corporation, a well-known organization dedicated to strategic studies, published a report entitled “Extending Russia,” produced at the request of the Pentagon.

The report details how to provoke countries in ways that can be exploited by the US. It has this to say about Russia: “We examine a range of nonviolent measures that could exploit Russia’s actual vulnerabilities and anxieties as a way of stressing Russia’s military and economy and the regime’s political standing at home and abroad. The steps we examine would not have either defense or deterrence as their prime purpose, although they might contribute to both. Rather, these steps are conceived of as elements in a campaign designed to unbalance the adversary, leading Russia to compete in domains or regions where the United States has a competitive advantage, and causing Russia to overextend itself militarily or economically or causing the regime to lose domestic and/or international prestige and influence.

“Do we need to hear more in order to understand what is happening in Ukraine? Provoke Russia into expanding and then criticize it for doing so. NATO’s eastward expansion – against what was agreed with Gorbachev in 1990 – was key in triggering the provocation. Another important step was the violation of the Minsk accords. It should be pointed out that when the Donetsk and Luhansk regions first claimed independence, following the 2014 coup, Russia did not support the claim. It favored autonomy within Ukraine, as provided for in the Minsk accords. It was Ukraine – with US support – that tore up the agreements, not Russia.

As for Europe, its number one concern is to consolidate its status as a minor partner that does not dare interfere with the zones of influence policy. Europe has to be a reliable partner, but it cannot expect reciprocal treatment. That is why the EU – to the clueless surprise of its leaders – found itself excluded from AUKUS, the security pact between the US, Australia and the UK for the Indo-Pacific region. The minor partner strategy requires that Europe become more dependent, not only in military terms (something that NATO can always be relied on to ensure) but also with regard to the economy and the area of energy in particular.

US foreign policy (and democracy) is dominated by three oligarchies (for oligarchs are not the monopoly of Russia and Ukraine): the military-industrial complex; the gas, oil and mining complex; and the banking and real estate complex. These complexes yield fabulous profits thanks to so-called monopoly rents, i.e., privileged market positions that allow them to inflate prices. Their goal consists in keeping the world at war and increasingly dependent on US arms supplies. Europe’s energy dependence on Russia was thus something unacceptable. And yet, in Europe’s eyes, it was not a question of dependence, but rather of economic rationality and a diversification of partners. With the invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing sanctions, everything fell into place as planned.

The stocks of the three complexes rose immediately, and the champagne began to flow. A mediocre, ignorant Europe, totally lacking in strategic vision, falls helplessly in the hands of these complexes, which will soon let Europe know what prices it will have to pay. Europe will be impoverished and destabilized because its leaders failed to rise to the moment. Worse than that, it can’t wait to arm Nazis. Nor does it seem to remember that, in December 2021, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution – proposed by Russia – aimed at “combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”. Two countries, the US and Ukraine, voted against it.

The current peace negotiations are misconceived. It makes no sense that negotiations should be solely between Russia and Ukraine. They should be between Russia and the US/NATO/EU. The 1962 missile crisis was resolved between the USSR and the US. Did anyone think of inviting Fidel Castro to the negotiation table? It is a cruel delusion to believe that there can be lasting peace in Europe without any concessions from the Western side. Ukraine, whose independence we all advocate, must not join NATO.

Have Finland, Sweden, Switzerland or Austria ever needed NATO in order to feel safe and to get ahead? The truth is that NATO should have been dismantled as soon as the Warsaw Pact came to an end. Only then would the EU have been able to establish a defense policy and military defense capabilities suited to its own interests rather than those of the US. What threats were there to Europe’s security to justify NATO’s interventions in Serbia (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2004) or Libya (2011)? Will it be possible, after all this, to go on calling NATO a defensive organization?

By Boaventura de Sousa Santos is the Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Coimbra (Portugal). His most recent book is Decolonising the University: The Challenge of Deep Cognitive Justice. (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2021).


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Zelensky Visits Wounded Soldiers at Hospital

Zelensky Visits Wounded Soldiers at Hospital
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office on Sunday, March 13, 2022, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, shakes hands with a wounded soldier during his visit to a hospital in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited wounded Ukrainian soldiers in a hospital Sunday.

What they’re saying: Zelensky awarded the “defenders of Ukraine” with medals for their courage and wished them a speedy recovery, per the country’s government. The soldiers had been fighting in the Kyiv region before they were wounded.

The big picture: Zelensky’s visit came on the 18th day of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

  • Ukrainian officials earlier Sunday announced that a barrage of Russian airstrikes on a military facility in western Ukraine had killed at least 35 people and injured 134. It was the westernmost point of attack in the war thus far.
  • Russian forces have also continued their siege on the port city of Mariupol and have come within roughly 15 miles of the capital, Kyiv.

What they’re saying: “The Russian invaders cannot conquer us. They do not have such strength. They do not have such spirit,” Zelensky said in a late-night video address on Saturday.

  • By invading Ukraine, Russia has turned itself into a “large area isolated from the rest of the world. Where poverty will reign. Where everything will be determined only by violence.”



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Putin Agrees to Idea of Sending Foreign Volunteers to Ukraine

Putin Agrees to Idea of Sending Foreign Volunteers to Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin. SPUTNIK/Sergey Guneev

Russian forces, as well as the militias of Donbass continue to advance amid the special military operation in Ukraine. President Putin stated that the goal of the operation is to ensure the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine.

The Russian president stated that volunteers who want to help Russia in Ukraine should be assisted in reaching the area of combat operations.

“If you see people who want – on a voluntary basis, especially not for money – to come and help people living in the Donbass – well, you need to cooperate with them and help them move to the war zone”, Putin stated during a National Security Council meeting.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu noted that there is a vast number of people who want to help the DPR and LPR in the special operation – over 16,000, with many of them coming from the Middle East.

Commenting on the statement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov underlined that the minister specifically meant foreign volunteers, and that he has no information about any plans to attract Russian citizens.

At the same time, Putin stressed that the Kiev regime’s “western sponsors” are actively gathering mercenaries and do not even try to conceal their activity, blatantly neglecting the norms of international law.

Armoured vehicles drive along a road in Armyansk in the northern part of Crimea, Russia. © Sputnik / Konstantin Mikhalchevsky

Armoured vehicles drive along a road in Armyansk in the northern part of Crimea, Russia.
© Sputnik / Konstantin Mikhalchevsky

The preisdent also approved an idea put forward by Shoigu, suggesting that western-made weapons (small arms, tanks, anti-tank guided missiles and man-portable air-defence systems) seized in Ukraine should be transferred to the troops of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

Meanwhile, Shoigu noted that the West is boosting its military presence near Russian territory.

“The General Staff is developing and has practically completed a plan to strengthen our western borders, including, of course, those new, modern complexes, and to move combat units there to protect our western borders”, Shoigu said.

The news comes as Russian forces and the Donbass militias are advancing in Ukraine amid the special military operation, launched on 24 February. Moscow noted that the operation was started in order to protect the people of Donbass, who were suffering from attacks by Kiev’s forces, and noted that the goal of the operation is the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine.

The Russian forces have been targeting Ukrainian military infrastructure with precision weapons: the MoD stated that a total of 3,213 Ukrainian military objects have been eliminated since the beginning of the operation.

The list of destroyed Ukrainian vehicles includes “98 aircraft, 118 unmanned aerial vehicles, 1,041 tanks and other armoured combat vehicles, 113 multiple launch rocket systems, 389 field artillery guns and mortars, as well as 843 units of special military vehicles”, according to an official statement.



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Russia Asks for UN Security Council Meeting Over Ukraine’s ‘Biolabs’

Russia Asks for UN Security Council Meeting Over Ukraine’s ‘Biolabs’

Moscow claims Washington has funded and curated alleged bioweapons programs in Ukraine

Russia has called for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss purported US-backed biological weapons programs in Ukraine. Washington has denied that it owns or operates any such biolabs in the country, while Kiev insisted that the facilities were engaged only in civilian research.

Moscow’s deputy UN envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy announced the move early on Friday, saying the mission had requested a Security Council summit for March 11, while citing a Defense Ministry briefing claiming that the United States and NATO allies ran “military biological programs” in Ukraine.

The military briefing went on to claim that the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency is “financing and conducting military biological research on the territory of Ukraine,” citing documents it said it captured at several facilities during Russia’s ongoing attack on the country. Among other activities, the ministry said research was carried out at laboratories in Kiev, Kharkov and Odessa to “study the possibility of the spread of particularly dangerous infections through migrating birds.”

Washington, however, has rejected those charges, with State Department spokesperson Ned Price telling reporters on Wednesday that the US is “in full compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention, and it does not develop or possess such weapons anywhere.”

Instead, Price argued it was Russia that has been operating “active chemical and biological weapons programs,” though he did not elaborate or provide evidence for the counter-accusation.

Other US officials have offered varying responses to Russia’s claims. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, for example, told lawmakers on Tuesday that Ukraine does, in fact, have “biological research facilities,” voicing concerns that “Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of” hazardous materials from those labs. She stopped short of confirming any American role at the facilities, however, and did not go into details about what kind of work had been done.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also weighed in on the issue, saying that any biolabs in his country have no military dimension and are “focused on civilian science.” He claimed that most of the facilities have been around since the Soviet era.

“Neither chemical weapons nor other weapons of mass destruction are being developed on our soil,” he said on Friday.



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EU Leaders Rule on Fast-Tracked Membership for Ukraine

EU Leaders Rule on Fast-Tracked Membership for Ukraine
A staff member sets up EU flags ahead of a European Union leaders summit after European Parliament elections to discuss who should run the EU executive for the next five years, in Brussels, Belgium May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka Van de Wouw

Assessment of Kiev’s bid to join the bloc will take “months, maybe years,” the Dutch prime minister says

The EU has condemned the Russian offensive and pledged its support to Ukraine on its path to European Union membership, but stopped short of fast-tracking its application to join the bloc.

Kiev submitted its EU application in late February, with President Volodymyr Zelensky asking Brussels to accelerate its assessment of the bid in view of the ongoing fighting in his country.

The bloc’s leaders debated the issue for hours on the first day of the European Council summit, convened at the Palace of Versailles, outside Paris, issuing a joint statement late on Friday.

They condemned what they described as Russia’s “unprovoked and unjustified military aggression” against its neighbor, and demanded Moscow “immediately and unconditionally” withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territory.

Council members pledged to “continue to provide coordinated political, financial, material, and humanitarian support” to Kiev.

As for fast-tracked EU membership, they “acknowledged the European aspirations and the European choice of Ukraine,” and said the European Council had acted “swiftly” in passing Kiev’s bid to the European Commission to elicit its opinion.

However, this is just the first step in what is a lengthy bureaucratic process to join the EU, with the statement containing no hints that Ukraine would be allowed to take any shortcuts along the route.

In a press briefing after the summit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte clarified that the assessment of Kiev’s bid by the commission would take time – “months, maybe years.” Brussels had nonetheless been treating the application with unprecedented speed, he said.

Despite calling the Ukrainian people “heroic,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda acknowledged that it was “impossible to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine today.”

“We were divided,” Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa said of the summit. The majority of the bloc’s leaders agreed that the Ukrainians needed a “strong political message that they belong to our European family,” but there were also many among the delegates who were “still debating the procedures” by which that might be enacted, he added.

Moscow attacked its neighbor in late February, following a seven-year standoff over Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. German- and French-brokered proposals had attempted to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.

Russia has demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.



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