Last week Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense, stated bluntly that the U.S. goal in the war is to see Russia “weakened,” and although Biden walked it back the next day, the cat is out of the bag.
As he made his request for an additional $33.4 billion in aid, mostly military, Biden said, with apparent conviction, “We’re not attacking Russia; we’re helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression.”
But the truth is that the United States has been laying the groundwork for a war with Ukraine since the Soviet Union collapsed and the U.S. became the world’s sole superpower.
One of the earliest voices urging conquest of Russia via war with Ukraine came just a year later, in 1992. The Draft Defense Planning Guidance authored by then-Defense Department staffers I. Lewis Libby, Paul Wolfowitz and Zalmay Khalizad under the direction of Dick Cheney, called for ensuring that no rivals develop to challenge American hegemony. Even though re-written to be more widely acceptable, then-President George H.W. Bush rejected it.
But a few years later in 1997 Zbigniew Brzezinski, Barak Obama’s foreign policy advisor, published his influential book, The Grand Chessboard. There he stressed the strategic importance of Ukraine as a geopolitical pivot: “Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian Chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.”
He explains that “Geopolitical pivots are the states whose importance is derived not from their power and motivation but rather from their sensitive location…which in some cases gives them a special role in either defining access to important areas or in denying resources to a significant player.”
So, he wrote, “it is imperative that no Eurasian challenger emerges, capable of dominating Eurasia and thus also of challenging America.”
Not much later, voices of those neoconservative war hawks rose again in the Project for a New American Century formed by Robert Kagan and William Kristol, who argued in Rebuilding America’s Defenses that American hegemony would be good for the whole world and was, in effect, the only way to keep the peace. The document was used as justification for the Iraq war in 2003.
Despite this post-Cold War flurry of regressive statesmanship, it still seemed that the emerging neoconservative movement was merely a radical offshoot of the Republican party that was destined to fade into obscurity. Until, that is, the protests in Ukraine’s Maidan in 2014, where it turned out that this radical wing was moving into dominance even before the election of Trump.
Prominent on behalf of U.S. interests was Victoria Nuland, the loathsome wife of the aforementioned arch-conservative Robert Kagan. The U.S. not only organized the coup against the democratically-elected Viktor Yanukovych but provided arms to the violent extremists who attacked peaceful protestors.
Clearly, the US was preparing for the war with Russia that is now taking place. But only a few Americans recognized what was afoot. Here for example is Bruce Gagnon, whose organization, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space has been fighting to keep nukes out of space:
Using the 2019 Rand Corp study called ‘Overextending and Unbalancing Russia’ as a guide, the U.S.-NATO obviously do not want negotiations between Ukraine and Russia to flourish. Their interest is in creating a festering sore along Russia’s border forcing Moscow to spend more of its national treasury on the military and on rebuilding the massively destroyed Russian-ethnic Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. The Donbass destruction was largely due to Ukrainian army shelling for over eight years since the U.S.-orchestrated coup in Kiev in 2014.
For a thorough, thoughtful review of these developments from one who has worked with Swiss Intelligence in many countries including Ukraine, listen to Jacques Baud with Aaron Mate on Pushback. Two of Baud’s articles about the history of the Ukraine situation may be found in The Postil.
The proxy war using Ukraine against Russia has been in the making since 2014 when the United States began training Ukrainian troops (including neo-Nazis) and offering munitions and intelligence. During those eight years, Ukraine has been actively shelling the Russian-speaking citizens of the Donbas, killing some 14,000 mostly civilians.
Meanwhile, in the 2018 Defense Planning Guidance signed by James Mattis, Secretary of Defense under Trump, declared that Russia and China, not terrorism, were the top U.S. National Security threats. Surely Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping were aware of this dictum. Journalist Vijay Prasad has called attention to this critical foreign policy development.
During those eight years also, Putin has made repeated appeals for protection of the Russian-friendly citizens of the Donbas as well as objections to the ensuing expansion of NATO, all without effect. It appeared that he was trying to avoid an invasion at all costs, if only he could obtain the security guarantees he needed.
But no luck.
Then, on September 1, 2021, Biden went ahead to lay the groundwork for confrontation with Russia by signing, with Volodymyr Zelensky, a “Joint Statement on the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership” of September 1, 2021. In one stunning example, here is the Agreement’s assessment of the Russian threat:
Russian aggression, including the war in eastern Ukraine and its seizure of Crimea, has claimed more than 14,000 Ukrainian lives, destabilized Europe and the Black Sea region, and threatened the global rules-based order.
Those 14,000 lives were lost in the ongoing civil war between the government and the Eastern provinces of the Donbas with little or no intervention from Russia while U.S.intelligence was training Ukrainian troops. The “seizure” of Crimea is also misleading since the citizens there wanted to join Russia in hopes of finding protection from the neo-fascist groups like the ones who set fire to a government building in Odessa, burning alive 48 peaceful protestors trapped within. The city has imposed a curfew for the 8th anniversary of that event, May 2.
Finally, in December, 2021, while its troops began lining up on the Belarussian border, Russia presented its suggestions for a peaceful resolution of this standoff in the form of treaties that would guarantee the security of Russia. These were brushed off by the U.S.
Even then, Putin continued to say that he was not planning to invade Ukraine, while Biden kept saying he “knew” that Putin planned to invade.
In fact, as CIA-analyst James Risen reports in The Intercept, Putin did not make his decision to invade until after Biden revealed on February 18 that he had been informed by U.S. intelligence that invasion was likely. Risen points out that this weaponization of intelligence by Biden is a first:
President Joe Biden took the unusual step of making the intelligence public, in what amounted to a form of information warfare against the Russian leader. He also warned that Putin was planning to try to fabricate a pretext for invasion, including by making false claims that Ukrainian forces had attacked civilians in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists. The preemptive use of intelligence by Biden revealed “a new understanding … that the information space may be among the most consequential terrain Putin is contesting,” observed Jessica Brandt of the Brookings Institution.
Timothy Snyder, a historian who wrote the book Bloodlands about Europe between two wars, argues in a recent article in The New Yorker than Putin is obsessively working from an old (Russian) history book that claims Ukraine is historically and forever part of Russia. This view of Putin’s limitless aggression would support the common denigration of Putin as paranoid and a madman. I’ve read some of his speeches and listened to a number of interviews, including Oliver Stone’s, and I have not seen this alleged lunacy. However, the horrors of war, with its rape and murder, its sophisticated weapons and firestorms does incline one to lay the blame somewhere, and Russia seems to be the obvious perpetrator, even though in some cases, such as Bucha, Ukrainian claims of Russian atrocities have been disputed.
It’s the “fog of war,” which, as Jodie Evans, co-founder of CodePink, kept saying in her recent talk for PraxisPeace, makes it difficult to think clearly.
Suffice it to say, we have been down this way before. In her recent novel, Violeta, Isabel Allende depicts real events in the history of Chile through the experience of her main character. I can’t match her description of the horrors of Operation Condor, but that was one of many tortuous campaigns, “a United States-backed campaign of political repression and state terror involving intelligence operations and assassination of opponents,” according to Wikipedia, one in which “The United States government provided planning, coordinating, training on torture, and technical support and supplied military aid to the Juntas during the Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations. Such support was frequently routed through the CIA.”
The assassination of Chilean president Allende is one of the many places where the U.S. has interfered, but never with a nuclear power. Warnings of the danger of this proxy war are beginning to surface thanks to Austin’s leak. But so far, the American public has been largely silent. Apparently the mainstream narrative is having its numbing effect.
This war did not have to happen. There were many opportunities to prevent it, had the U.S. been willing to support negotiations with Russia and Ukraine. When, after the invasion began, talks were in progress but allegedly, the U.S. restrained Zelensky from making an agreement. Zelensky did withdraw after saying he had no problem with Russia’s key demands that Ukraine not become a member of NATO and that it become a neutral state. Resolving the issue of the Donbas would have been difficult, but the negotiations did not get there.
The war goes on because America, our exceptional country, wants it to continue until “that guy” Putin is removed from power and Russia is significantly weakened. At the cost of how many innocent Ukrainian lives, mostly civilians?
Saturday May 7 is a day of protest organized by a coalition of peace organizations including CodePeace. To find a protest near you, or to post an event in your area, go to https://www.peaceinukraine.org/
Stephanie Hiller is a writer and teacher who lives in Sonoma.