The war being fought in Ukraine is Washington’s war. That should be clear after 6 months of intense conflict following 8 years of war since the US instigated Maidan coup in 2014.
While there is a Russian military operation within the territory of Ukraine there is a Washington war against Russia being fought both within and outside the country. While the conflict in Ukraine is between the US and Russian Federation, Ukrainians, both nationalist and Russian-oriented, do most of the fighting and dying on the ground. Certainly, well over three-quarters of the casualties suffered in the conflict from 2014 have been Ukrainian of one sort or another, in the war that Washington has been the driving force behind.
The Ukrainian civil war, sparked off by the Washington-inspired Maidan coup in 2014, has been enhanced by US use of it as a geopolitical instrument against Russia, drawing Russia militarily and politically into the territory of the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
History is about cause and consequence. The Western political class and its media appendage has it that the Russian “invasion” of late February 2022 started the war. Anyone but the most simple-minded would know that the war was going on in Donbas for 8 years before the launch of the Russian Special Military Operation in late February 2022. It was being fought by the government in Kiev to bring under its control territory that had seceded from the Ukrainian state as a result of the 2014 Maidan coup.
Washington has declared, at one time or another, the entire Western Hemisphere, plus the Middle East and Persian Gulf, to be its sphere of influence. Russia claims a much smaller, more local, sphere of influence of quite limited proportions that includes countries directly adjacent or near its borders, which formed a common state with Russia until quite recently. The US while claiming most of the world as its sphere of vital interest denies that Russia has any sphere of vital interest – even adjacent to its borders. Washington uses the anti-Russian tendency in those countries which formed a common state with Russia to expand its own influence.
It did this reasonably successfully until it came to the Ukraine. Now the West has gone into hysterics in finding that it has limits to its world.
In Ukraine Washington came across a population and elected government which did not want to be swept up in its irresistible forward movement. There was an eastern part of Ukraine which had strong cultural, social and linguistic links with Russia, which was part of a Russian civilisational sphere. Therefore, Washington came across an actual Russian sphere of influence that had no desire to become an exclusive part of a US projected sphere, at the expense of its historic foundations around which a delicate nationality and recent state had been cultivated and developed.
As a consequence, the national division in Ukraine produced a civil war in the country when Washington, in conjunction with nationalist elements from Western and Central Ukraine, decided to eradicate the Russian-oriented part of the state, which had traditionally provided Ukraine’s political leadership. This brought about the first, and clearly reluctant, Russian intervention in 2014.
It is abundantly clear that the cause of this year’s events lies in the Western attempts to destabilise and wrench Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence over a period of around a decade at least, as part of a movement of NATO up to the borders of Russia over a longer period of a quarter century. And what is called the “Russian invasion” of February 2022 is, therefore, a consequence and not a cause of events in which the West, for geopolitical reasons, overthrew a necessary heterogenous balancing state leadership in Kiev to replace it with a simplifying reductionist nationalism, fatal to Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Europe was undoubtedly an important party to the war until fairly recently. It looks, however, that it is a spent force and has exhausted its war effort. The UK is still the major moral supporter of Ukraine but it too has little more to give to Kiev, it appears, except for Johnson cameo appearances in Kiev.
That leaves Washington as the alpha and omega of the conflict.
Origins: The Blundering Obama Presidency
When Obama won the US Presidency in late 2008 he inherited a situation that demanded resolute and firm action to stop the West’s slide into confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. He did not provide the required statesmanship to do so.
Despite repeated warnings from the Kremlin that bringing NATO up to its borders would constitute a strategic threat of the first order the momentum of NATO enlargement continued unrelenting from the 1990s. The most famous and explicit of these warnings was made by Vladimir Putin at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007, when the Russian President pointed to how Washington had marginalised the UN, used the OSCE as an instrument of US policy, blocked the ratification of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, remilitarised Europe through missile proliferation, and continually enlarged NATO toward Russia.
But Putin’s warnings were to no avail. At the NATO summit at Bucharest in April 2008 Georgia and Ukraine were promised future membership, raising the stakes. Washington undoubtedly wanted NATO membership for Ukraine more than the Ukrainians did. Ukraine’s non-aligned status was enshrined in its constitution but this was seen as something of little consequence by those who wanted to detach Ukraine from the Russian sphere, no matter what the internal consequences would be.
Putin, after Bucharest, moved to strengthen aid to the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in Georgia. Saakashvili in Georgia later told the Wall Street Journal that he knew “what Mr. Putin’s vulnerabilities were, but the European Union and the US have been unwilling to endure even a minimum of pain to exploit them.” (25/5/2014) An emboldened Georgia, with NATO promises behind them, blundered into a disastrous war with Russia after it attacked Ossetia killing Russian peacekeepers and scores of Ossetians. Russia’s response should have served as a warning to all about what might happen in Ukraine if the US continued to push its agenda of expansion.
It should have been clear by then that NATO, whose continued existence was being justified after its Soviet enemy was no more, by a continued Russian security threat, was actually amplifying any alleged threat through its own continued expansion to the borders of Russia! NATO, in effect, justified its continued existence through the threat it actually constituted to Russia, in what it was supposedly countering.
As Professor Richard Sakwa wrote:
“The Trotskyite roots of US neocon thinking are well-known, and for them the world revolution was not cancelled but only transformed: the fight now was not for revolutionary socialism but for capitalist democracy – to make the world safe for the US. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy: by treating Russia as the enemy, in the end it was in danger of becoming one. NATO found a new role, which was remarkably similar to the end it had been set up to perform in the first place – to ‘contain’ Russia.” (Frontline Ukraine, p.5)
President Obama, perceiving danger, promised a “reset” with Russia.
As a Senator Obama had perceived the heavily-armed Ukraine as a danger to the world and had won $48 million in federal funding to help Ukraine destroy thousands of tons of its Soviet-era weaponry. In August 2005 Obama traveled to Donetsk and Kiev with Republican Senator Dick Lugar. The two met in Kiev with President Victor Yushchenko, making the case that an existing Cooperative Threat Reduction Program covering the destruction of nuclear weapons should be expanded to include artillery, small arms, anti-aircraft weapons, and conventional ammunition of all kinds.
Ukraine had become a major arms exporter, fuelling conflict in various regions of the world. The UN had identified 7 million small arms and light weapons, and 2 million tons of conventional ammunition, warehoused in more than 80 weapons depots spread across the country. “We need to eliminate these stockpiles for the safety of the Ukrainian people and people around world, by keeping them out of conflicts around the world” stated Senator Obama. A year later, President George W. Bush signed into law a proposal authored by Obama and Lugar.
This illustrates that there was an awareness in the United States that Ukraine posed a threat to world peace in one way or another and Obama entered the Presidency with this view.
However, on 15 July 2009 Obama was warned in an open letter by leading intellectuals and Russophobe politicians from Central and Eastern Europe against a policy of “appeasement of Russia”. They stressed the important US/Atlanticist influence they represented in Europe, keeping the EU as a component of the US-created security system against peace tendencies among the Western Europeans. That was a warning shot by the eastern-enlarged EU across Obama’s bows against any thought he might be entertaining of coming to an accommodation with Moscow. The new President was told that US influence in Europe would be diminished by such a peace policy if he chose to depart from US policy.
That letter and other developments tied the process of EU enlargement, which Russia had been comfortable with up to that point, to the Atlanticist military enlargement policy, which it rigorously opposed. For Moscow, the EU had clearly abandoned the Gaullist narrative of European security – that had sought to make Europe allied but separate from Washington – in favour of being a Russophobe instrument of Western military expansionism. In 2008, the European Union launched its Eastern Partnership Program which was tasked with strengthening EU relationships with all the former USSR’s European republics, including Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, to prepare the way for EU Eastern expansion to the East. But the EU in preparing the EPP partners for association agreements. specifically excluded Russia, signalling that it was seeking to isolate Russia’s economy from its neighbours.
Russia’s fears that the European Union represented a Trojan Horse were confirmed in 2013-14 in Kiev when the EU acted as the harbinger of NATO enlargement and Western military advance into Ukraine.
President Obama appointed Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State in his first administration (2009-13). Clinton seems to have been given a free hand by the President, who focused on a domestic agenda and was mindful that the Democrats wished to make Clinton the first woman president of the US after having the first black president. Having trumped Clinton in the identity conflict of race vs. gender in the Democrat nomination, Obama was chastened to let the woman have her way, despite the fact that she had very different intentions than the black man in the White House.
Clinton packed her State Department with Democrat neocons who had a messianic view of the world. She was a Putin-hater who described the Russian President as being “a man without a soul”. Clinton had a hawkish view and urged Obama to take stronger action in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. When John Kerry took over as Obama’s Secretary of State in 2013 he made no attempt to create his own team. The State Department was still headed by Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, who made the seamless passage from Republican neocon Dick Cheney’s staff to Clinton’s and Kerry’s. Nuland’s husband is Robert Kagan, founder of the New American Century think-tank. Kagan was one of the foremost advocates of American exceptionalism, asserting that the US should override international law when it was required, to make the world safe for Americans.
The US State Department is not what it was during the Cold War. It is an ideologically driven body, heavily populated by careerist academics, and which has an ever-decreasing sense of reality about the world. And it seeks to predominate over the Pentagon and the US Generals by wielding ideological control over them.
Beside the war-hawk neocons in the Obama administration there were the liberal, humanitarian interventionists like John Kerry, Samantha Power, Catherine Ashton and Susan Rice. These people, also often academics of a leftist persuasion, who had the best of intentions in the world, often found themselves promoting the worst of all outcomes for the people they wished to save. They provided the moral gloss over the neocon substance so that killing and destruction was done for the best possible motives.
Obama struggled to restrain the war-hawks and liberal interventionists after the Arab Spring, that began in 2010. The Arab Spring rejuvenated the neocons who had been chastened by the experience of Iraq but now put it about that the Arab Spring was proof of their policy of smashing up the Muslim world so that the fragments would result in democracy. The Arab Spring was a delayed reaction from the liberation of Iraq, according to the neocons, and they wanted more of the same, even if it had to be done more subtly under Obama’s watch. The situation brought the liberal interventionists, who baulked at the vulgar military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, onboard for the good work of humanitarian democracy-building against authoritarians. However, when the democracy established in Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood turned out to be not to the liking of Washington it aborted the Arab Spring there and supported a military coup.
The disasters in Syria, Libya, Georgia and Ukraine all flowed from the Obama administration’s half-baked and confused Arab Spring policy which was neither one thing nor the other and which whetted the appetite of the Washington war-hawks but ultimately left them unsated.
Obama ceded day-to-day control of US foreign policy to his new Secretary of State, John Kerry, as he had done in his first term to Secretary of State Clinton (which had resulted in the Syrian debacle). But both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry were often disengaged when it came to what their State Department was actually doing.
The US President’s most important role in Foreign Policy is to restrain those powerful elements in US society who are instinctively clamouring for an extension of US power across the world through war, if necessary.
President Obama was pulled in two directions by events that he made no attempt to shape himself: caution and a recoiling from what had happened in Iraq told him that spreading democracy where it was not suitable was a dangerous game that would not end well for either the US or those it inflicted its democratic revolutions upon. But a strong element in his party were liberal democratic ideologues who only objected to the neocons on the basis that US wars should be fought for good causes, like democratic advancement, rather than for selfish national interest. This element had as their predecessors the English Liberals of 1914 who championed the Great War as a war for democracy and ended up destroying Europe in two successive world wars.
The Washington inspired coup in Kiev
For Washington liberal interventionists and neocons alike the Ukrainian crisis of 2013 offered the opportunity to complete the unfinished revolution of the Orange revolution of 2004, pushing aside Western European caution and consolidating US hegemony. Obama’s Vice President, Joe Biden, and the influential neo-con Victoria Nuland, along with Jake Sullivan, were up to their necks in the overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government in Kiev in 2014. Nuland was caught plotting the installation of a Washington-friendly government weeks before the Maidan coup in Kiev in 2014. In an intercepted phone call with US Ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, Nuland stressed that she would need Joe Biden and Jake Sullivan to ensure the plan’s success with Biden moving regime change along at the appropriate time (Richard Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine, p.87). Biden signed on to Nuland’s plan, positioning himself as the key US official in the post-coup Ukrainian government that seized power after Maidan and the driving of the president into exile. The Vice President visited Kiev on at least two occasions in 2014 and more afterwards. “No one in the U.S. government has wielded more influence over Ukraine than Vice President Joe Biden,” concluded Foreign Policy in late 2016.
The Ukrainian citizens of the East, who had been content within the Ukrainian state bequeathed by the Soviets as long as their identity was protected, rejected the legitimacy of the coup government and began to voice support for independence from Kiev and the neo-Nazi elements who had helped it to power. They had seen a foreign-backed putsch overthrow a democratically elected government which they had overwhelmingly voted for. In fact, polls taken at the time published in the Western-owned Kiev Post show a slim majority of Ukrainians opposed to Maidan.
The response from the illegal coup regime was to label its own citizens which opposed it Russian proxies and “terrorists” and Kiev attacked the Eastern portions of the country, bombarding it indiscriminately with missiles and artillery (“murdering its own people” in Western parlance). Kiev attacked its own citizens – something which the Obama administration had declared justified US involvement in Syria and Libya – but not Russian intervention to protect Russians across its border in Ukraine.
When Obama saw what happened at Maidan and in Donbas he drew back and attempted to restrain the Washington war hawks fermenting escalation. He got cold feet over what was being attempted and put a block on weapons to those who had provoked a war in the east of Ukraine that brought Russian intervention in Crimea and more reluctantly into the Donbas. Obama’s view, which is contained in reports in the New York Times, was that these weapons would end up in the hands of neo-Nazi thugs and dangerously escalate the conflict. Apparently, every senior White House official opposed Obama’s restraint.
The Minsk II accords of 2015 came out of Obama’s restraining. After suffering military defeats from the forces of the peoples in Eastern Ukraine that had declared themselves independent of the coup government, an agreement between Donbas and the coup government was arrived at that became known as the Minsk II agreement. The terms of the agreement included a commitment to a ceasefire along with a degree of autonomy for Donbas. The agreement staved off all-out war, reducing conflict to skirmishes, and provided some degree of stability, until the Biden administration came to power.
However, to get the war hawks and liberal interventionists to agree to a policy of conflict resolution Obama had to agree to a massive round of sanctions against Russia, from March 2014, which seriously damaged US/Russia relations. These sanctions were aimed at heading off the dangerous Senate bill S.2277 (Russian Aggression Prevention Act 2014) which sought to authorise the US to grant Ukraine “allied nation” status, independent of NATO membership – meaning Washington would be empowered to send troops to Ukraine commiting NATO to war with Russia.
As George Friedman commented, US sanctions were not believed to be able to change the Kremlin’s policy, which resulted from US actions, they were in fact,
“designed to make it look like the United States is trying to change Russian policy and… aimed at those in Congress who have made this a major issue and at those parts of the State Department that want to orient US national security around the issue of human rights. Both can be told that something is being done – and both can pretend that something is being done – when in fact nothing can be done.” (Frontline Ukraine, p.203)
So something more had to be done if Washington wished to advance its agenda.
By the time of Minsk II Obama was entering the last two-years of his second and final term of his Presidency and the belief was that Hilary Clinton, who was more to the liking of the Warhawks, would unconstrain things when she became President in 2018. The Washington Warhawks bided their time while the far-right hardliners in Ukraine subverted Minsk through violent protests which resulted in the deaths of people outside the parliament in Kiev. President Poroshenko acquiesced to Minsk after Kiev’s forces encountered determined resistance and mounting losses in the east and the destruction the war was causing began to affect his support.
During this time Vice President Biden was in frequent communication with President Poroshenko but Biden did nothing to encourage him to support a negotiated settlement (Frontline Ukraine, p.172). Some more spirited Washington war hawks, including Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, went to Kiev to actively sabotage the Minsk accords in December 2016. They had condemned the Obama administration in April 2014 for a lack of meaningful action and stated that the US must lead the charge in Ukraine (Frontline Ukraine, p.190). Senator Graham told the Ukrainians that 2017 would see a new offensive fully backed by Washington and the year of victory in the east.
At the same time the coup government in Kiev humoured the lame-duck US President. Ukrainian President Poroshenko, Zelensky’s predecessor, admitted recently that: “The Minsk Agreements did not mean anything to us, and we had no intention to carry them out… our goal was to remove the threat we faced… and win time in order to restore economic growth and rebuild the armed forces. We achieved this goal. Mission accomplished for the Minsk Agreements.”
Obama was a liberal globalist, supportive of the “pivot to Asia” that would re-orientate the US away from pointless and expensive wars in the Middle East to confront the new challenge of China facing US political and economic hegemony. It seems that at the outset of his presidency he wanted to conduct a traditional pragmatic and realist US foreign policy that restrained the messianic impulses of US world leadership. However, to achieve this he would have had to override substantial vested interests and powerful political opposition in Washington to conclude a functional security agreement with Russia. Bringing Moscow into a process of meaningfully participating in decisions of the most important political and security questions in Europe that affected it was the only way of offsetting the antagonising of relations brought about by NATO enlargement.
President Medvedev had proposed a new European Security Treaty in June 2008 which called for the creation of a genuinely inclusive security system to ensure a new iron curtain did not appear on the continent. This would build upon the economic linkages that were developing between Europe and Russia and which could lead to a wider Eurasian integration.
This occurred just before Obama was elected President. But Washington was dead against better political and economic relations between Europe and Russia that would lead to a working relationship developing. Europe had to be kept in antagonism to Russia to preserve US hegemony over it – a hegemony that was much harder to maintain if Europe became part of something much larger that the US could not dominate. It was fortunate to have the East European Russophobes as allies.
The US objective of maintaining an antagonism between Europe and Russia had been made clear when Gorbachev was collapsing the USSR and proposed to James Baker that Russia join NATO to close the Cold War. Baker, diplomatically rejecting the offer told Gorbachev that “Pan-European security is a dream.” President George H. Bush made it clear to the French President, Francois Mitterrand, at the same time, that it was NATO which would act as security for Europe and not any kind of European alliance. (see A Broken Promise, Foreign Affairs, September 2014, p.95)
The US was determined to maintain its hold on Europe even after the Cold War was over and NATO’s raison d’etre had vanished and it needed to maintain antagonism and fear in Europe to do so.
President Obama’s administration had no strategic policy on foreign affairs. He merely refereed competing interests in Washington, curbing the most extremist military adventurism of the neocons, after the disaster in Iraq. But when he failed to reverse the course of US policy in Europe, and allowed his officials to destabilise Ukraine, he seriously aggravated relations with Russia. It was the well-meaning Obama, more than any other President, who put Ukraine on the path of destruction during his term of office.
The Trump and Zelensky Interruption (failed)
Two events conspired to obstruct the plans of the war hawks in Washington and the irredentist nationalists in Kiev: Firstly, the maverick candidate, Donald Trump unexpectedly won the Republican candidacy for the Presidency and then unexpectedly defeated Hilary Clinton in the November 2016 Presidential election. Secondly, an anti-corruption candidate with a peace programme for resolving the conflict in the east, Volodymyr Zelensky, was elected in a landslide victory over Poroshenko in the second round of the Ukrainian Presidential elections in April 2019.
The rogue President Trump was problematic for the Ukrainian hardliners because he had an antagonism to needless, unprofitable wars. He did not see the sense in wasting American money on dubious foreign adventures when it could be better spent on rejuvenating US manufacture at home. Trump also had a problem with Kiev because Ukrainian’s largest energy producer, Burisma, had mysteriously handed Joe Biden’s incapable and drug-addicted son, Hunter Biden, a seat on the board in April 2014 at a crucial point in the regime change. Joe Biden was the chief driver of Ukraine’s energy independence from Russia. This seemed to cement a close relationship between the Biden family and Kiev for purposes that went beyond personal gain. It meant that a foreign policy in Kiev could be pursued by elements in the Washington establishment beyond the reach of the democratically elected President.
in September 2019 a whistleblower in US intelligence lodged a formal complaint against President Trump for withholding a significant military aid package of 400 million dollars to Ukraine because Kiev was refusing an inquiry into the murky relationship between Biden’s son and the Ukrainian state. This formed the basis of Trump’s impeachment by the US House of Representatives. In his opening statement at Trump’s trial, Democratic impeachment manager Adam Schiff stated: “The United States aids Ukraine and her people, so that we can fight Russia over there, and we don’t have to fight Russia here.”
Trump was impeached by the House, but saved from removal from office by the Senate, where the Republican Senators rallied against the Democrat impeachment of the popularly elected President. Trump, upon surviving, began a purge of untrustworthy Russia and Ukraine “experts” from his staff. But he was forced by Congress to release the US military funds for Kiev he had held back.
The Washington war-hawks capitalised on the “Russiagate” frenzy instigated against Trump (which accused Putin of winning the Presidency for the rogue president) to achieve a turn-about in policy. Heavy bipartisan lobbying, coupled with Trump’s own incentive to disprove the allegations against him that he was beholden to the Kremlin, influenced the President to consent to the removal of the Obama blocks on weapon escalation and approve the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. Trump was neutered by the war lobby.
Upon his election Zelensky boldly declared that he was “not afraid to lose my own popularity, my ratings,” and he was “prepared to give up my own position – as long as peace arrives.”
However, Ukraine’s powerful far-right and neo-Nazi militias made it clear to Zelensky that he would pay a far higher price if he persisted in his peace programme in the Donbas. “No, he would lose his life,” Right Sector co-founder Dmytro Anatoliyovych Yarosh, commander of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army, said after Zelensky’s inaugural speech. “He will hang on some tree on Khreshchatyk – if he betrays Ukraine and those people who died in the Revolution and the War.”
When Zelensky went to the Donbas in October 2019 to promote elections for the separatist areas, he was confronted by members of the Azov battalion rallying under the slogan “No to Capitulation.” In an videoed exchange, Zelensky told an Azov member: “I’m the president of this country. I’m 41 years old. I’m not a loser. I came to you and told you: remove the weapons.” Armed mobs were sent to the President’s office in Kiev where those who defended the President were attacked and killed on occasion. Yuri Hudymenko, leader of the far-right Democratic Ax, threatened Zelensky with another coup if Minsk was signed: “If anybody from the Ukrainian government tries to sign such a document, a million people will take to the streets and that government will cease being the government.”
Zelensky got the message. With Washington doing nothing to protect his back and allying with the far-right groups in Ukraine, Zelensky shot down the Minsk agreement and brought on the Russian military intervention.
“Zelensky ran as a peace candidate… He won an enormous mandate to make peace. So, that means he has to negotiate with Vladimir Putin.” But there was a major obstacle. Ukrainian fascists “have said that they will remove and kill Zelensky if he continues along this line of negotiating with Putin… His life is being threatened literally by a quasi-fascist movement in Ukraine.”Peace could only come, Cohen stressed, on one condition. “[Zelensky] can’t go forward with full peace negotiations with Russia, with Putin, unless America has his back,” he said. “Maybe that won’t be enough, but unless the White House encourages this diplomacy, Zelensky has no chance of negotiating an end to the war. So the stakes are enormously high.”…“There were moments in history, political history, when there’s an opportunity that is so good and wise and so often lost – the chance… So, the chance for Zelensky, the new president who had this very large victory, 70 plus percent to negotiate with Russia an end to that war, it’s got to be seized. And it requires the United States, basically, simply saying to Zelensky, ‘Go for it, we’ve got your back.'”
The Washington establishment did not support Zelensky’s peace programme. It subverted it in alliance with hardliners and Nazis in Ukraine and turned the new President toward its objectives in using Ukraine to escalate its geopolitical war on Russia.
Biden’s “Return to Ukraine” Presidency
“Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in early 2019, former Vice-President Joe Biden had a reassuring message for European politicians, diplomats, and military leaders worried about American disengagement: “We will be back!” Biden’s speech was met with applause and relief. Wait out the tenure of President Donald Trump… Patience is the name of the game.” (Foreign Affairs, July 2019, p.109)
The defeat of Donald Trump and election of the liberal interventionist Joe Biden as President in November 2020 would have confirmed Zelensky’s new direction as the only possible way of remaining in power for the Ukrainian President. By that time Zelensky had alienated a large part of Ukraine’s political class, having had former President Poroshenko arrested for treason, banned opposition TV channels, sidelined oligarchs from politics, changed the supreme court against the constitution and passed laws to curtail the Russian language. He was increasingly unpopular and there was a growing feeling in the country that he was not up to the job of President.
There is a close parallel between Nikol Pashinyan, the former media man who became Armenian Prime Minister, who reversed his accomodationist position in the face of hardline opposition intimidation and dashed hopes by subverting his own peace process, and Zelensky’s experience in Ukraine. In Pashinyan’s case Azerbaijan lost patience and launched a military campaign against the Armenian occupation in Karabakh, after a peace process was run into the ground and similarly Putin concluded likewise and acted in consequence.
An early signal that Biden would continue the proxy war in Ukraine came with his appointment of Victoria Nuland as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. The National Interest commented on 15 January 2021 in an op-ed ‘Joe Biden’s Pick of Victoria Nuland Means Relations with Russia Could Get Worse’:
“Reports of Nuland’s future appointment are sure to come as a source of elation to the government in Kiev. By the same token, they send perhaps the clearest message yet to Moscow that the prospects for meaningful US-Russian rapprochement under a Biden administration appear exceedingly slim”
Biden, Sullivan, Nuland, and Blinken had done nothing to support the Minsk accords while simultaneously provoking Russia’s red line against NATO expansion into Ukraine.
Jonathan Kirshner wrote in Foreign Affairs of March 2021, in the aftermath of the Trump Presidency:
“Now, NATO faces existential threats on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe, authoritarian backsliding in Hungary, Poland and Turkey is endangering the notion of the alliance as a like-minded security community. A NATO that contains authoritarian members will rot from within. In the United States, meanwhile, growing skepticism of internationalism may mean that the country no longer has any interest in pursuing milieu goals… the implications of American abandonment would go far beyond the continent… There is no region of the world where revised assessments about the United States will be more consequential than Asia… If countries figure that the United States is out, or indifferent, then many will decide they have little choice but to bandwagon with China…” (p.25-6)
NATO was there to fight a land war against the Soviet Union in Europe. From the 1990s the Soviet Union did not have the will or capability of waging such a war. Even today, the revived Russian army would not have the will or capability of what Stalin and subsequent Soviet leaders had in the generation after World War Two.
It is clear from this that NATO required a great purpose to be reinvigorated from its torpor and increasing sense of redundancy. If it was not to die it had to be shown to be useful in a world in which many believed it had outlived its purpose. But it is clear from this that while NATO is formally a defensive military organisation it seems to be really a front for the US universalising mission.
In August 2021, Washington and Kiev signed the US/Ukraine Strategic Defence Framework, providing for collaboration “to advance the military capabilities and readiness of Ukraine to preserve the country’s territorial integrity, progress toward NATO interoperability, and promote regional security” and called for a “closer partnership of defense intelligence communities in support of military planning and defensive operations.” This was followed in November 2021 by the US-Ukrainian Charter on Strategic Partnership which declared U.S. support for “Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO.” The agreement emphasized “Ukraine’s efforts to maximize its status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner,” which represents a special status for a select number of NATO allies earmarked for increased NATO weapons shipments and integration.
In an enlightening recent interview, Zelensky disclosed that Washington seems to have employed the threat of Ukrainian membership of NATO as bait to draw Russia militarily into the country:
“I requested them [NATO] personally to say directly that we are going to accept you into NATO in a year or two or five, just say it directly and clearly, or just say no. And the response was very clear, you’re not going to be a NATO member, but publicly, the doors will remain open.”
Washington, by maintaining that the “doors will remain open” to Ukraine joining NATO, while having no actual intention of fulfilling the pledge, deliberately crossed a Russian red line that practically made Russian military intervention certain. Zelensky, by this time, seems to have decided to fully play Washington’s game of luring the Russians into his country by making provocative statements about reviving a nuclear capability on Ukrainian territory.
Back in power, President Biden and the Democrats reclaimed the forward to war policy and began to encourage Kiev to ignore the Minsk II agreement and forcefully retake control of Donbas.
Russian Foreign Intelligence, which had heavily penetrated Ukrainian state security, learnt in early February 2022 that a large offensive was planned against Donbas in the forthcoming weeks. Massive bombardments of Russian-Ukrainian areas during mid-February backed up this intelligence. The exact date of the offensive was not known (late February, mid-March or late March). The only question was: was this offensive real or had Washington and Kiev produced an elaborate hoax to make it unavoidable for the Russians not to act to preempt it?
Will Washington ever end the War?
Since Russia began its Special Military Operation in Ukraine, the United States has sent over $12 billion worth of military aid to support Kiev’s war effort. Responsible Statecraft before detailing the largest arms transfer in US history noted:
“… there are two different sources for these lethal aid packages. One, which has made up the vast majority of transfers to date, is known as a “presidential drawdown.” This means that the White House and Pentagon agree to send weapons to Ukraine from U.S. stockpiles, after which DoD can use the funds to replenish their stocks by purchasing new arms from defense contractors. Biden has used this authority an unprecedented 18 times in order to send weapons to Ukraine, with most of the funding coming from money that Congress has set aside to arm Kyiv.
The other source of weapons is the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, or USAI. This is a special fund within the Pentagon’s budget that is used to purchase new weapons from contractors rather than drawing from existing stockpiles. Transfers from these funds do not require additional approval from Congress.”
So it is Washington, rather than the American people that is waging the war in Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine is Washington’s war because US administrations instigated the war as part of universalistic objectives much wider than the detaching of Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence. Only Washington has the power to stop it (and presumably move on to instigate trouble elsewhere e.g. China/Taiwan).
But Washington is unlikely to either do the necessary to win the war or allow Russia win at the conference table. What it will do is prolong the war indefinitely to prevent anything that looks like a Russian victory and intervene to keep it going when the Ukrainians finally buckle.
President Biden’s statement of 30 April, What America will and will not do in Ukraine, published in the New York Times, seems to indicate a reduction in US war objectives (which are the West’s war aims to all intents and purposes):
“America’s goal is straightforward: We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression… We do not seek a war between NATO and Russia. As much as I disagree with Mr. Putin, and find his actions an outrage, the United States will not try to bring about his ousting in Moscow… My principle throughout this crisis has been “Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.” I will not pressure the Ukrainian government — in private or public — to make any territorial concessions. It would be wrong and contrary to well-settled principles to do so.”
The initial objective of Washington was to collapse the Russian economy and have Putin overthrown in a coup of some kind, before moving on China. Now the formal aim of overthrowing Putin or capturing Crimea (as Lloyd Austin and Liz Truss declared) seems to be off the agenda. The territorial integrity of Ukraine is no longer a principle to be fought for by Washington. It is now dependent on Kiev’s will and ability to fight for it.
The statement seems to give agency to the Ukrainians but it is quite deceptive. What it means for the Ukrainians is that they will have to fight as hard as they can in order to continue receiving the Western aid necessary to sustain their effort and if they ever shirk “democracy’s battle” they will have to settle with Russia on the basis of the situation on the battlefield. That means a choice of “fighting to the last Ukrainian” or suing for peace with Moscow.
Russia has more limited objectives in Ukraine than the West has. Moscow will settle for a buffer in the east and south of Ukraine – if it is allowed to. But that would be a crushing defeat for both Ukraine and the West and would justify Putin’s original decision to launch the military campaign. It would be a third defeat for the West against Russia after the proxy wars in Syria and Libya, but one with a much higher price in prestige and morale.
Moscow now knows that a long war of perhaps generational proportions is on the cards for it in Ukraine. It will presumably be preparing plans for assaults on Kharkov and Odessa in early 2023, following static lines over Winter, if this proves necessary.
The shelling of the Zaporozhe nuclear power plant (which supplies Donbas) by Kiev’s forces and the missile/sabotage attacks on Crimea (which Kiev has denied) are obvious provocations meant to draw Russia into a war i.e. to turn the Special Military Operation into a full scale Russian war on Ukraine that could justify greater Western intervention. Limitation, not escalation, is in the Russian interest. There is borne out by the fact there is not enough manpower in the 200,000 strong Russian expeditionary force to capture the main Ukrainian urban centres. Moscow is reluctant to mobilise the Russian population for war unless it proves absolutely necessary to do so.
All the indications are that the Kremlin is determined to avoid an escalation with the West if at all possible. Putin is a cautious and conservative statesman whose bold move was the Special Military Operation. It is not in Russia’s interest to occupy any Ukrainian territory that Russia does not need to occupy for its own security and for that of the Russian Ukrainians it now fights for. Any occupied territory Russia would gain would preferably be governed and defended by local elements developed over time for the specific purpose of operating a buffer. It may be believed in the Kremlin that there is no reason to suggest Ukrainians outside of the Galician West of the country would not be willing to undertake such a task when Kiev/Western failure becomes apparent.
It may be that the Washington realises Russia cannot be defeated in Ukraine without risking a world war. The probability is that Washington would have no problem in dropping Zelensky and reconstituting the Kiev regime to continue the war. It has been signalled in the New York Times through Thomas Friedman, who is close to Biden, that relations between Washington and Zelensky are strained. That type of story is often an indication of preparation of the American public for a change in policy. There are rumours that some oligarchs whom Zelensky has made bitter enemies of are readying themselves to move against the Ukrainian President if the signal is given.
Prof. John Mearsheimer has recently concluded in Foreign Affairs:
“The Biden administration should have worked with Russia to settle the Ukraine crisis before war broke out in February. It is too late now to strike a deal. Russia, Ukraine, and the West are stuck in a terrible situation with no obvious way out. One can only hope that leaders on both sides will manage the war in ways that avoid catastrophic escalation.”
Prof. Geoffrey Roberts, when pressed about how the conflict ends, during a recent roundtable discussion, suggested that only when it reaches the stage of a choice having to be made between the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine (or its European hinterland) or conference, will there be a stop to the war. At that point there is some kind of victory for all. One hopes he is correct if it comes to that.
That is the sad and stark reality that faces Ukrainians, however it is dressed up in Western propaganda, which has always been designed to keep the truth from them, and the Western public, for as long as possible.